A Finished Vehicle Logistics magazine survey of vehicle handling activity in 2012 at European vehicle ports has revealed a relative stability in volumes, thanks to rising exports, despite the overall decline in the market.

The survey, which included nearly 35 responding ports or port amalgamations, showed that ports reported a rise in vehicle exports of 8% in 2012 compared to 2011, which helped keep total vehicle handling volume stable even despite a drop in imports of 9%. However, within that overall stability there have been a number of more radical developments.

There was no change in the top ranking ports in 2012, with the northern European ports of Bremerhaven, Zeebrugge and Emden occupying the top three positions respectively. Bremerhaven saw a 5% change on the previous year and handled 2.15m in 2012.

The port of Antwerp in Belgium has taken the fifth position from the UK’s port of Tyne following an 18% increase in volumes, thanks largely to exports. Tyne has slipped to sixth while the UK’s Grimsby, Immingham and Killingholme port complex remains in fourth place despite a 6% drop in volumes to just below 790,000. But at the same time, those Humber ports saw a huge boost in exports in 2012 reaching 150,000 compared to 64,000 the year before. That jump was largely due to GM movements at ABP Grimsby and Immingham.

However, it is in depressed southern Europe that some of the bigger surprises have been found. While markets there remain in a slump, rising transhipment volumes to North Africa or the Black Sea have helped certain ports overcome declines of between 30-40%. The port of Pireaus in Greece was able to rank as the 11th largest port in the survey, despite the ongoing turmoil in the country’s economy, thanks to a 23% jump in exports.

Growth in parts of North Africa has offered hope to other ports in the Mediterranean and southern Europe regions. According to Peter Menzel, commercial director at Neptune Lines, North Africa is the future. “The truth is that the economic downturn does not have much effect on imports from Romania, Turkey and Morocco, all of which sell lower-priced cars,” he said.

Chinese imports to region are also growing, particularly to Algeria.

New shipping services, infrastructure improvements and exports have also helped some Spanish ports offset the collapse in imports. Barcelona only slipped one place (to eighth) from last year as Southampton in the UK moved up from ninth to seventh following a 26% increase in vehicle handling, thanks in part t to exports from Honda, which uses the port of 85% of its exports.

Read the full European Vehicle Ports report in the latest edition of Finished Vehicle Logistics magazine.