Port of Antwerp disrupted by Belgian farmers' protests

A ship cruises at the port of Antwerp

BRUSSELS (Reuters) -Operations at the port of Antwerp, one of Europe's biggest container ports, were seriously impacted on Tuesday as hundreds of farmers on tractors blocked the roads around the port to demand better pay and working conditions, officials said.

The protest follows a large number of similar actions by angry farmers in France, Belgium, the Netherlands and beyond, as farmers also demand looser environmental rules and better protection against cheap imports.

"Operations are heavily disrupted," Stephan Van Fraechem, the director of the association of port companies Alfaport VOKA, told Reuters. "No freight can be delivered or picked up, as trucks are halted, while employees are only being allowed in after a long wait."

Van Fraechem said this was costing companies working in the port millions of euros "for a conflict they play no part in."

The delays this is causing for freight handling come on top of the problems that port companies are already experiencing as attacks on vessels in the Red Sea force shipping companies to stay away from the Suez Canal and opt for longer routes instead.

"Supply chains are already disrupted," Van Fraechem said. "Now ships that are already working outside their usual schedule arrive in a port where they can't unload. This is a cause of great concern."

A spokesperson for the port said roads were blocked at various places, disrupting traffic and causing long lines of trucks.

In France, the head of the country's biggest farming union, FNSEA, said on Tuesday that protests that hit the sector last month - blocking highways across the country - could resume if the government does not do more to meet their demands for better pay and working conditions.

(Reporting by Bart Meijer and Sudip Kar-Gupta; Editing by Ingrid Melander)