In the Hamburg-Le Havre range of ports, Antwerp, Rotterdam, Hamburg, Bremen and Le Havre compete for market share. This competition is not based merely on cost or capacity; ports need to offer customers an attractive package. Accessibility, capacity, cost, flexibility, reliability and connections with the hinterland, among other factors, are important.
As authorities gear a port to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century, they often concentrate on infrastructure. Faced with increasing scale and growing demand for container-handling capacity, ports often push infrastructure as the dominant factor. To attract ever-larger vessels they need to offer both accessibility and sufficient capacity for rapid throughput. With charter prices between US $45,000 and $60,000 per day, “idle time” must be minimised. This puts upstream ports with longer sailing times, such as Antwerp, at a disadvantage. Investments in new deep-water container terminals in some ports in the Hamburg-Le Havre range (Port 2000 in Le Havre, Euromax in Rotterdam, Deurganckdok in Antwerp and Jade Weser Port in Wilhelmshaven, among others), and the effort that ports with limited natural draughts, such as Antwerp and Hamburg, are putting into improving accessibility show how port authorities and governments try to respond to the market. Yet infrastructure and port services need to be offered at a competitive price. With declining freight rates, carriers increasingly are focusing on cost efficiency.
Carriers and shippers choose between ports on the basis of total costs. Although there are charges for port services, such as pilotage, towage and berthing - and while the costs of time and reliability should also be considered - cargo handling comprises the bulk of port costs. Labour costs account for between seventy and eighty percent of cargo-handling expenses, while the latter in turn represents seventy to eighty percent of total port costs. While it would be easy to assume that the port with the least expensive labour would attract more cargo, the level of service and the quality of investment also matter. Indeed, roughly twenty-five to thirty percent of total cargo-handling costs are related to the cost of investments. On the other hand, costs and organisation are not the only issues carriers consider when analysing labour. With high fixed costs and charter rates, carriers will hesitate before sailing to a port with a reputation for labour unrest.