The European Short Sea Shipping Market

Map Europe Short Sea Shipping
The European Short Sea Shipping Market

Source: Based on Eurostat data.

The European short sea shipping market can be divided into five major regional markets, each with its own characteristics; the Black Sea, the Mediterranean, the Atlantic Range, the North Sea, and the Baltic. In 2014 total freight transport by short sea shipping in the EU-28 amounted to 1.86 billion tons or 59% of total EU-28 maritime goods transport. The most important short sea countries are servicing the United Kingdom (315 million tons), Italy (262 million tons), and the Netherlands (272 million tons). Most short sea flows occur between partner ports in the Mediterranean (28%) and the North Sea (27%). Liquid bulk (including liquefied gas, crude oil, and oil products) is the most important cargo type, with almost half the total tonnage of 896 million tons. Rotterdam was the largest European short seaport with 195 million tons of shortsea traffic. Antwerp was the largest European short seaport for containers with 30.5 million tons, closely followed by Rotterdam with 30.2 million tons. For roll-on/roll-off transport (RORO), Dover in the UK and Calais in France remained the top two short seaports with 27.3 and 16.6 million tons of RORO short sea traffic, respectively. These are major ferry services across the English Channel.

At the end of the 1990s, the liberalization of cabotage services in Europe was virtually complete, with only the Greek market remaining partially protected until 2002. An EU-flag ship is eligible to undertake cabotage trades in any EU state. This liberalization made it possible for short sea shipping to start competing effectively with land-based transport. The European Commission is supporting the development of short sea shipping in view of a modal shift from road to other transport modes. This shortsea policy is supported by the creation of Motorways of the Sea (MoS) and funding mechanisms like the Marco Polo Program. The EC has policy objectives to remove any remaining regulatory and customs obstacles to creating an EU maritime space. The basic requirements for improved services of short sea shipping relate to:

  • Technical and infrastructural aspects. Shorter turnaround time in ports, more efficient customs operations and administrative procedures, and more favorable port pricing.
  • Commercial aspects. Better integration of short sea shipping in supply chain practices through information and reliability improvements.
  • Political aspects. Policies to internalize the external costs of transport modes, ending preferential treatment by customs procedures in favor of overland traffic. This also includes harmonizing rules for land and sea carriage of hazardous goods.