Brexit-proof: the Port of Zeebrugge

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In this joint article, Joachim Coens, President CEO at the Port of Zeebrugge and Patrick Van Cauwenberghe, Trade Facilitation Director at the Port of Zeebrugge, examine the port’s trading tradition with the UK and outline steps taken to ensure smooth trade flows after Brexit.


The Port of Zeebrugge has maintained strong trade relations with the United Kingdom since the 12th century against the background of the Hanseatic League. From then to modern day, we have been upholding this tradition with the UK, having evolved into a modern intermodal hub and gateway for both the European and British markets.

With 17 million tons of freight transhipment, consisting of mainly Ro-Ro and container loads, the United Kingdom is Zeebrugge’s main trading partner. No less than 70 liner services per week link Zeebrugge, and hence the European mainland, with numerous British ports on the East Coast and Ireland. The hub function is our competitive advantage. Our core business consists of providing tailor-made solutions for all the cargo traffic to the UK. Zeebrugge is a bridgehead for just-in-time supplies to UK markets. These logistic chains have taken years to establish and will remain available. This also applies to new cars. The Port of Zeebrugge is the largest car handling port in the world with a total annual volume of 2.8 million new vehicles. We supply the UK markets with no less than 1 million new cars and high and heavy loads. 

“The Port of Zeebrugge is the largest car handling port in the world with a total annual volume of 2.8 million new vehicles.”

The trailers transiting through Zeebrugge are unaccompanied, which should represent a gain in time with regard to future border controls, since there is no driver involved. The Port of Zeebrugge is also preparing itself in terms of infrastructure. It accommodates brand new Border Inspection Posts, a new infrastructure which houses the Belgian customs function, as well as the Federal Agency for Food Chain Safety. Sufficient cold store facilities, additional parking places for trucks in and around the port and new staff training programmes are available to cope with possible hold-up of cargoes. In addition, a contingency plan with regard to additional parking places has been drawn up in order to safeguard the accessibility of the port, as well as the mobility of the cargo flows.

One of Zeebrugge’s main focuses is to limit the transit times of UK cargo flows through the efficient handling of formalities and further digitization of Brexit-related administration. Coordinated, transparent and efficient planning of controls by different administrations is crucial. In this respect, the Port of Zeebrugge, in particular the port authority and the private port community, are preparing the data platform ‘RX/Seaport’. Via one unique connection, this data sharing platform will allow the secure interchange of data and information between all the parties involved, in order to avoid interruption of the physical goods flows because of Brexit-related administration.

A Brexit information point has been opened in the Border Inspection Post for any parties that have questions with regard to customs formalities after Brexit. There are four customs officials present in the information point to give individual guidance on the necessary measures to be taken concerning Brexit.


“One of Zeebrugge’s main focuses is to limit the transit times of UK cargo flows through the efficient handling of formalities and further digitization of Brexit-related administration.”

To ensure the flow of goods between Belgium and the UK, extra customs staff members are being trained and will be added to the existing workforce in Zeebrugge, and other regions, to cope with the extra workload that Brexit will entail for the customs administration.

The port authority in Zeebrugge is in full preparation for Brexit and urges everyone to be ready for a no deal Brexit on the 31st of October or any other date after that. To guarantee smooth cargo flow in case of no deal, it is of the utmost importance to take the necessary steps:

  1. Register for an EORI number with the Customs administration.
  2. Sign up for the RX/SeaPort platform. RX/SeaPort has developed a digital system, E-Desk Ferry, which focuses particularly on ferry transportations. Through the system, export users notify the terminal operator of the arrival of their cargo. Based on this information, the cargo can be released for transport.
  3. Come to Zeebrugge using the FLUX Trucking app. The app is designed to guide truck drivers to and through our port. If necessary, the app can also guide a driver to a nearby parking or waiting space. The port authority has installed two extra locations for cargo that has not been cleared for transport.
  4. Do not come to the terminal without the necessary administrative requirements!

As a port authority, we aim for a fluent flow of cargo in our port. Cargo that does not fulfil the administrative requirements will not be admitted to the terminal and this will cause unnecessary delays.

A hard Brexit on the 12th of April was avoided thanks to the extension granted by the European Union. However, the idea of a hard Brexit has not been discarded yet. 31 October 2019 is the new deadline. As it is still unclear what will happen in the coming months, it remains of vital importance for the Port of Zeebrugge and UK port companies to maintain their focus and concentrate on the preparations for a hard Brexit.

More information about how the Port of Zeebrugge is preparing for Brexit can be found on our website: