Zeeland Seaports is actually two ports in The Netherlands' province of Zeeland. Zeeland Seaports is located about 55 nautical miles south-southwest of the Port of Rotterdam and about 29 nautical miles east-southeast of Belgium's Port of Antwerp. Located in the southwest area of The Netherlands, the province holding Zeeland Seaports is made up of many islands and a strip of mainland bordering Belgium. Covering an area of almost three thousand square kilometers including over a thousand kilometers of water, much of Zeeland is below sea level. Zeeland Seaports is located about 15 kilometers from the North Sea on the WesterScheldt (Western Scheldt), an estuary of the Scheldt River.
Zeeland Province has one of the smallest populations of The Netherlands' provinces. It has little industry and no big towns. Zealand Seaports are located in Terneuzen (Dutch) and Vlissingen (Dutch), which are among the main towns in the province. In 2006, some 380 thousand people lived in Zeeland, and the combined population of Zeeland Seaports was over 100.3 thousand. Tourism is vitally important to the Zeeland and Zeeland Seaports. The area's population can as much as quadruple in the summer when people come to enjoy the Zeeland Seaports beaches.
The town of Terneuzen, known as Ter Nose at the time, was settled around 1300 AD. Its growth and development has always been closely tied to that of the Port of Ghent in Belgium. In the 16th Century, the city of Ghent desired a direct connection with the Western Scheldt in order to compete in international trade with the Port of Antwerp. The resulting canal stretched from Ghent to the Braakman area just west of the Western Scheldt in what would be The Netherlands. The Netherlands' town of Sas van Gent (Dutch) grew up at the Braakman end of the canal that eventually became an integral part of Zeeland Seaports.
Unfortunately, the canal went out of use, becoming little more than a muddy channel. Ghent faced economic disaster, so it decided to dig a new canal to connect the city to the sea. The new canal linked Ghent to Brugge, and Ghent entered a period of prosperity and rapid growth, industrialization, and sea-born commerce. Soon it needed a new connection with the sea.
Recognizing Ghent's importance, The Netherlands' King William I agreed to help build a new canal between Ghent and Terneuzen, one of the Zeeland Seaports. The original un-used canal was deepened and widened, and a 13-kilometer canal was dug between Sas van Gent and Terneuzen. The many large ships going to Ghent forced them to enlarge the canal to a depth of 6.5 meters.
As ships grew larger and sailboats gave way to steamboats, the canal faced extinction. Belgium and The Netherlands decided to build a new lock and a swing-bridge. The lock in Zeeland Seaports' Terneuzen is still in use today. After construction was finished, the canal accommodated vessels with draft of 8 meters.
When two railroads were built around 1870, the port at Terneuzen began to grow. It was a popular location for storage and transshipment, and many new companies settled there. Sas van Gent grew as well, becoming Zeeland's first industrialized town when a sugar factory was opened in 1872. As the area entered the 20th Century, new factories were developed, and the port grew with them.
After World War II, shipping activities on the canal grew tremendously. Terneuzen received subsidies to attract new industry, and many new companies located in the area. The future Zeeland Seaports' canal was again widened and deepened, and new locks were built to accommodate larger inland ships and ocean-going vessels. The harbors along the canal were enlarged, and new harbors were constructed.
In 1960, The Netherlands government decided that the many harbors, quays, and berths along their end of the Ghent-Terneuzen Canal should be managed as one port. This would require the communities along the Canal to work together, and a research committee was formed with representatives from the various municipalities. In 1963, the committee reported that governance of the new port must be both deliberate and flexible. The Terneuzen Port Authority was established. The Port Authority of Terneuzen was legally established in 1970.
As early as the 13th Century, the port at Vlissingen (Zeeland Seaports' second port) was trading salt, wood, herring, tar, and wool at a time when Vlissingen was known for piracy and privateering. One of the town's oldest harbors is the outport that was constructed in the Middle Ages. Dating to 1455, the Nije, or Fishermen's Harbor, received ships from all over the world.
During the 16th Century, the town was transformed into a busy city by traders, craftsmen, privateers, and slave traders. After this golden age, Vlissingen hit a low point. Under occupation by Napoleon's troops, it was a destitute city.
In the 19th Century, the government dug the Walcheren Canal and two harbors as well as the Vlissingen-Bergen railway line. In 1875, the De Scheldt shipyard opened in Vlissingen, and the area began to industrialize. By the early 1920s, the Outer Harbor was too small for the increasing cargo traffic that resulted. In 1931, the Outer Harbor was improved and enlarged. In 1934, a stevedoring company was established that still operates today.
Vlissengen suffered during World War II, and it took many years to reconstruct the area. In 1964, Sloe Harbor was opened in East Vlissengen, leading to the construction of dozens of harbors in the area that would become Zeeland Seaports. Several large companies settled in the area, and the city's fortunes improved.
In late 1961, a committee was formed to investigate the feasibility of creating cooperative management of the industrial area and port of South Sloe. They recommended the establishment of the Vlissingen Port Authority. The Port Authority of Vlissingen was legally established in 1971.
Each of the two port authorities succeeded beyond expectations. Transshipments quickly grew from three million to 11.5 million tons per year, and the ports created almost 13.5 thousand jobs. However, the Dutch government decided in 1994 not to participate in the port authorities, urging the two separate port authorities to merge. In 1998, the merger was formalized, and the Zeeland Seaports, the new port authority, was established.