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Chinese shipping conglomerate Cosco today signalled the clearest indication that it is planning to create a North European container gateway to mirror its Mediterranean facilities in Piraeus.
It has signed a concession agreement with Zeebrugge Port Authority to operate its box terminal, CSP Zeebrugge.
The signing ceremony this morning at the port marks the final chapter in Cosco’s quest to take control of the Belgian hub.
Zeebrugge has seen volumes seesaw in recent years, largely as a result of the creation of the 2M alliance, which meant Maersk’s volumes handled at the port were relocated to MSC’s facilities at Antwerp.
Last year, Maersk-subsidiary APM Terminals moved out of Zeebrugge, selling its stake in CSP to Cosco, and today’s agreement confirms the Chinese group’s control of the facility.
Zhang Wei, vice chairman and managing director of Cosco Shipping Ports said: “There are many reasons why we chose Zeebrugge as our first gateway port in north-west Europe – with its prime location and water depth, it provides ideal conditions for mega-vessels.
“We plan not only to develop CSP Zeebrugge into a maritime crossroads, but also as an ultra-logistics platform to serve continental Europe and the British Isles.
Today also saw Cosco’s Ocean Alliance partner, French line CMA CGM, take a 10% stake in CSP Zeebrugge, a clear sign that the group, which also includes OOCL and Evergreen, wants to establish the port as an alternative box hub to Antwerp.
CMA CGM executive director Farid Salem said, “We are enthusiastic to be part of Zeebrugge Terminal’s future at the invitation of our strategic partner Cosco Shipping Ports. The terminal will be part of our global strategy.”
Cosco’s Mr Wei added: “We are delighted to have CMA as our partner. We are confident we not only can deliver high-quality services but also capture the economic opportunities emerging around the port of Zeebrugge.”
The deal represents something of a return to Zeebrugge for CMA CGM, which held a stake in the other container terminal at the port, CHZ Zeebrugge, which closed in 2015 due to declining volumes, leaving CSP as the sole box terminal in Zeebrugge.
At today’s ceremony, the Chinese ambassador to Belgium, Qu Xing, indicated that the Zeebrugge project was also a key part of his country’s Belt and Road project.
He said: “The launch of the Belt and Road initiative between China and Belgium in 2014 has laid a solid foundation for today’s signing ceremony.
“Port of Zeebrugge is farsighted in partnering with China; it’s a pioneer by making a series of decisive moves and has achieved noticeable results. China-Belgium trade is bilateral, not unilateral. The cooperation between China and Belgium is win-win.”