The Port of Antwerp's Past, Present and Future (1919)
In the course of Its long history, Antwerp has experienced many periods of prosperity and eras of severe depression. In the time of the Romans, the giant Antigone had built a castle on the present site of Antwerp. This tyrant demanded tribute from all ships which passed his castle. If the captain was unable to pay the sum demanded, the giant would cut off his right hand and throw it In the ScheIdt River, according to legend. This led to the city being named Antwerpen, for in Flemish "ant" means hand and "werpen" means to throw.
Finally, the Romans, under the leadership of the brave Salvius Brabo stormed the giant's castle. Antigone’s head and right hand were cut off and thrown Into the ScheIdt. Already a flourishing trading place in the seventh century, Antwerp was destroyed by the Normans In 836. From the tenth century on Antwerp developed rapidly and soon became an Important seaport.
In the middle of the sixteenth century, It reached the height of Its prosperity, having become the seat of the East Indian trade. The deepening through natural causes of the Western branch of the ScheIdt helped greatly to its prosperity, as sea-going vessels were then enabled to proceed to .Antwerp direct Instead of having to take a roundabout course through the Scheldt's eastern arm.
In the "reign of Phillip the II of Spain, the prosperity of the city rapidly waned. Stormed by the Spaniards In 1685, its population of 85,000 fell off nearly one-half. Its commercial Importance passed with the signing of the Treaty of Westphalia, one of the articles of which closed the ScheIdt river to navigation. It was not until 1792 that Antwerp experienced a new period of prosperity, when the City was incorporated into France and the Scheldt thereafter thrown open to all shipping. Upon Napoleon's downfall in 1816, the city's trade was hampered by the shipping dues levied by the Dutch.
Prior to 1850 when the navigation of the ScheIdt River was restricted, very little shipping arrived at the port of Antwerp. The city's rise as a Port dates from 1863, when the taxes Imposed by the Dutch 'on vessels bound for Antwerp were done away with by the payment of $9,000,000. The following table shows the net registered tonnage of ships entering Antwerp for the various years named:
In 1912 the net registered tonnage of all vell8els arriving and leaving from Belgian ports was 32,670,000 tons. of which 27,350,000 tons were credited to the port of Antwerp. In the same year, 659 sailing vessels and 13,410 steamers, aggregating 13,757,000 net tons entered Antwerp.
In 1913, 7,056 ships, aggregating 12,022,101 net tons, entered the port of Antwerp, as contrasted with 15,073 ships of 14,186,000 tons In the case of Hamburg. In the same year 11,448 ships of 18,915,648 net tons put in at the port of Rotterdam. These statistics show that the vessels call1ng at Antwerp are of a much larger average size than those entering the ports of Hamburg and Rotterdam.
No less than 12,762,000 tons of merchandise were unloaded at Antwerp in 1912, while goods aggregating 10,169,000 tons were shipped therefrom. A large proportion of the goods discharged at or shipped from Antwerp represented goods bound for or In transit from Germany. Should Antwerp not be able to recover this transit trade hereafter, it is not likely to regain Its pre-war status as a port.
The port equipment of Antwerp was badly damaged by the Germans during their occupation, reports the Antwerp correspondent of "Lloyd's List." He states in a review of general conditions at that port:
"The port of Antwerp Is in a better state than was anticipated at first, navigation is possible, the fairways are open, and the passes have a depth of 27 feet at half -tide. The Germans have been dredging some of the passes In order to allow the craft lying In the Antwerp docks and captured by the Belgian authorities In August 1914, to reach the Dutch ports. But though the river Is open to shipping, the quays along the river and in the docks are in a pitiable state. They are full of all kinds of miscellaneous materlal-1.Z00,OOO tons of sand (for the trenches), 840,000 cubic meters of timber from Riga and other Russian ports, 10,0000 tons of coal, munitions, guns, etc. left by the Germans.
Before the loading and unloading of ships will be possible, this material will have to be shifted away. The timber is piled under the sheds (hangars) high up to the roofs.
''The sluices giving entrance to the docks are Intact, but the fairway of the new Royers sluice is full of mud and will require a good deal of dredging. The Germans left behind in the docks about 2,000 river barges, most of them loaded with different goods. Some of the wooden river barges have sunk through lack of care. Except for the North German Lloyd steamer Gnelsenau and the Belgian steamer Anversolse, there Is not a single seagoing craft in the docks. "There had been thirty-two German and Austrian vessels Interned in the docks since August, 1914. These have been sent to Dutch harbors; also a British and a French steamer. Twelve torpedo boats took refuge in Antwerp after the abandonment of Zeebrugge; they have also left for Dutch ports. During the occupation the German contractors for building the new dry dock have continued work, and the dock will be ready for use at an early date. It will be a great Improvement for Antwerp, as the dry dock accommodation was Insufficient.
"The pre-war traffic of the harbor will not be re-established before another year. The first thing the Belgian authorities are caring for Is to replace the beacons and buoys in the ScheIdt, and at the same time to replace' the lights, in order to allow the traffic in the river by night. This Is rendered difficult In the Dutch part of the ScheIdt, from Flushing to Bath (nearly thirty miles). as the Dutch authorities are to replace the buoys, beacons and Lights themselves and are generally not in a hurry to do it. They do not allow the Belgians to do the work. If there Is nothing to hamper the work navigation by night will be possible in two or three months.
"As can be easily inferred, the commercial activity of Antwerp Is nil at present. Many of the native business men have died since the war. The Ailed businessmen and a number of Belgians are away, and the Germans have gone. Some of the Germans remained In Antwerp until the closing days, including the North German Lloyd agent. They have gone now and will never come back.
"Every German and pro-German will be put aside. Already the work has been started. The Supervisor of Shipping and Commerce, who was a notorious pro-German. has been dismissed. The Cunard Line has obtained the best berth at the river quays-a berth, which was leased to the Norddeutscher Lloyd before the war. The Antwerp authorities are firmly resolved to give to British, French, Belgian and other Ailed lines the berths on the river front where the German liners used to moor. British shipping people have a splendid future in Antwerp."
"Antwerp's Past, Present and Future." In The Nautical Gazette, 1 February 1919