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Strike across Flemish waterways disrupts Antwerp port operations

Posted on December 10, 2023

Major strikes across Flemish waterways will lead to supply chain disruption, and has hit operations at Antwerp – the second biggest container port in Europe. 

Action by marine pilots and public service workers, which has spread across Flanders, Belgium, has resulted in lock closures and congestion, as unions VSOA and ACOD respond to reforms to the Flemish civil service statute.   

Port of Antwerp told The Loadstar the industrial action started on Monday, and it was “very hard to predict” how long it would last.  

Inchcape Shipping Services (ISS) said today there were 49 ships waiting for arrival or departure at Antwerp, and raised concern that knock-on effects to wider supply chains could be expected if the strikes continued.

ISS said: “It is unclear how many pilots want to work at full capacity… but more than likely there are not enough of them to meet demand.” 

The coordinator of the Flemish team from ACV Public Services union, Ilse Remy, explained: “If a pilot is not brought onboard, then a ship cannot sail in or out of the port. This will certainly have a major impact on all seaports in Flanders.” 

This is the first port disruption seen in North Europe for a while, and comes at an unfortunate time for shipping in the run-up to the holiday season.  

Hapag-Lloyd warned that congestion could lead to delays and disruptions in shipping schedules, but told customers it was “monitoring the situation”, while Maersk advised customers yesterday it expected a minimum of 48 hours’ waiting time and further changes in vessel schedules.  

Negotiations between the unions and the minister for the Flemish Civil Service, Gwendolyn Rutten, were held on Tuesday but did not end with a solution. 

“We will continue our action until we have been able to reach a constructive agreement,” said Ms Remy.


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