Port system development is a key theme in port geography literature. Recent decades have brought a rise in container terminal development at estuarine, coastal and offshore port locations, in part driven by scale increases in vessel size. This paper examines how container ports located upstream on rivers use processes of adaptive capacity building in an attempt to remain competitive in port systems. We link the development path of upstream seaports to a range of economic, technological, social and political factors. When combined, these factors shape the willingness and capacity of an upstream seaport to adapt to changing conditions such as an increasing demand for nautical accessibility. The case study results on Antwerp and Hamburg show that the discussion on the future of these upstream seaports cannot be detached from broader public policy and stakeholder management concerns and the influences of retention mechanisms, power, politics and collective action by the port community.
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