The Port of Hamburg, which often touts itself as Europe’s “Gateway to Asia”, has further accentuated its dependence on trade with Asia, particularly China, which has become a lifeline for the port’s growth.
Axel Mattern, the executive board member of the Port of Hamburg Marketing, was “happy” with the port’s results while making a strong pitch for the port’s services at the recent Transport/Logistics show in Munich.
“Asia and, particularly, China have become very important markets for the Port of Hamburg. Indeed, our trade and traffic with the Asian continent, and particularly China have considerably grown in the past decade,” Mattern said in an interview with the American Journal of Transportation.
But aside from China, Mattern also described India and the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) group as important regions for the port’s traffic. The Port of Hamburg also handles a lot of transshipment of cargo from China consigned to various destinations.
The port achieved what Mattern described as “above-average growth” in the first half of 2013 to reach 68.1 million tons (+3.5 percent). The port’s growth does appear impressive given the uncertainties that continue to plague other ports in the region where traffic has been generally affected as a result of the global economic downturn. The major seaports in the North European range, for example, reported an average downturn of 0.4 percent in total throughput and 1.2 percent in container traffic.
Contributing to the positive result for container handling was the growth reported in exports at 2.2 million TEUs (+2.6 percent) and rising imports at 2.3 million TEUs (+1.7 percent). At 3.9 million TEUs, throughput of loaded containers was 2.4 percent higher. Considering that the numbers had been declining in the past two years, the handling of empty containers stabilized at 600,000 TEUs (+0.2 percent).
Sounding upbeat about the future outlook, Mattern said that Hamburg was further building up on its position as Germany’s largest port, thanks to both the general and bulk-cargo volumes. At 47.4 million tons, general cargo throughput was up by 3.1 percent while bulk-cargo handling at 20.7 million tons rose by 4.4 percent.
Mattern said that judging by the figures of the first half of the year, “there can be no talk of a slowdown at the Port of Hamburg”.
Trade with Asia Declined in 2012
Despite the port’s near-euphoric views about Asia, container traffic with that continent had actually experienced a decline in 2012.
“The Asia trade traditionally is of great importance for the Port of Hamburg. The 8.6 percent downturn in this trade to 4.7 million TEUs made a corresponding impact on the Port of Hamburg’s total container throughput. Lower traffic from Asia can primarily be explained by the problematical economic environment in Europe, the lack of a ‘peak season’ for Christmas in 2012, and a cooling off in Chinese foreign trade. Container throughput with China (including Hong Kong), Hamburg‘s leading trade partner in container traffic, was distinctly weaker in 2012 at 2.6 million TEU (-12.3 percent). On the other hand, there was steep growth in container throughput with India (+7.1 percent), which in direct traffic with Indian ports reached 210,000 TEU in 2012, though this was not sufficient to compensate for the decline in the China trade. In 2012 Europe accounted for Hamburg’s second largest container trade, after Asia, posted a 6.1 percent growth to 2.7 million TEU.
Container traffic with the United Kingdom jumped to 156,000 TEU (+ 30.2 percent), while container throughput with Russia as the Port of Hamburg’s second-ranking trading partner reached 675,000 TEU (+ 13.3 percent). The Finland trade was slightly down at 334,000 TEU (- 0.6 percent), but rose with Poland at 263,000 TEU (+ 10.6 percent).
Despite these “temporary fluctuations”, as port officials tend to describe the decline in Asian traffic in 2012, Mattern averred that Asia would rally and increase the seaborne cargo.
Another important region for the port’s container traffic is North America, which accounts for a total of 1.1 million TEU. The USA contributed to an impressive 28.1 percent growth to 380,000 TEUs, reaching fourth position among Hamburg’s main trading partners for container handling. The trend was also positive on container traffic with the west coast of South America that grew by 8.8 percent, reaching 120,000 TEUs. Container throughput at 238,000 TEUs with ports on the east coast of South America, however, remained 7.8 percent below the previous year’s level. The container trade with Africa achieved a positive result at 238,000 TEU (+ 12.8 percent), while container throughput with ports in the Australia/Pacific trade reached 43,000 TEU (+ 15.8 percent).
But Mattern was careful enough not to downplay the significance of Asia, which for many port officials is something of a “sheet anchor”. He pointed out that delegations from the port and also the city administration frequently visited a number of Asian countries to keep up the momentum of trade and business ties.
One such delegation, led by Hamburg’s economics senator Frank Horch, visited Japan, Korea and China last year to “renew old contacts and establish new ones”, as city officials described the purpose of that tour. They also exchanged views with their counterparts from the three countries, particularly in regard to the maritime sector and port-to-port cooperation. The port is working on plans to intensify cooperation with a number of Asian countries which are inherent with good business potential.
Mattern expects a “stable trend” in seaborne cargo handling, estimating that total throughput would rise to some 136 million tons (+4 percent) and container handling to around 9.1 million TEUs (+ 3 percent) for the entire year 2013.
Infrastructure Expansion Remains Urgently Necessary
Mattern underscored the need for infrastructure modernization and expansion as an “urgent priority”; this, he pointed out, was also adequately emphasized in the Federal Government’s Seaborne Traffic Forecast. He cautioned that without adequate capacity for arriving and departing traffic, any growth for Hamburg port on the scale envisaged in the potential forecast in the Port Development Plan (HEP), or of the size envisaged in the Federal Sea Traffic Forecast, would not be possible. He lamented that many infrastructure projects, which needed to be urgently implemented to remove the bottlenecks of delays and inadequate services, were blocked by citizens’ objections, problems on financing or political blockades. Among the infrastructure projects currently blocked is the adjustment of the navigation channel on the Lower and Outer Elbe of such crucial importance for the Port of Hamburg.
“If the infrastructural projects so essential for the Port of Hamburg are not implemented promptly and in line with requirements, that will have repercussions on the further development of the port and German foreign trade. Our globally structured economy requires an efficient Port of Hamburg that is easily accessible from both land and water,” Mattern said.
Feeder Logistics Center Boosts Competitiveness
Feeder Logistics Center (Feeder Logistik Zentrale—FLZ), an independent company established in 2009 in Hamburg, has coordinated the handling of containers, the three millionth of which was transshipped at the end of August.
The FLZ coordinates more than 5,000 calls by ships at the terminals each year and ensures that the agreed rotation of the feeder ships is complied with. It is the central point of contact for shipping companies and terminal operators, and is responsible for finding an optimal berth along the quay wall, as well as organizing pilots, tugs and moving services, thus augmenting the port’s position as a transshipment hub. The 2.1 percent increase in container throughput at the Port of Hamburg in the first half of the year was largely attributable to the 8.0 percent rise in feeder traffic. Seven new feeder services at the Port of Hamburg provide additional transport capacity and enhance the range of liner services to the Baltic Sea. Feeders are smaller container ships, such as those in Baltic Sea traffic, which ‘feed’ the container mega-ships deployed in transcontinental traffic. When a feeder ship calls at Hamburg port, it serves an average of four terminals.
Stefan Behn, member of the Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG (HHLA) Executive Board responsible for the Container segment, appreciated the role played by the FLZ: “The Feeder Logistics Center optimizes the feeder traffic in the Port of Hamburg, thereby increasing the attractiveness of the location. Just like our competitor, Eurogate, we want to provide our customers with the best conditions,” said Behn.