The container throughput trend in the Port of Hamburg in the first half of 2022 was more positive than expected. Total throughput of 4.4 million TEU – 20-ft standard containers – in the first six months of the year represented slight growth of 0.9 percent. Compared to the major competing ports of Antwerp-Bruges, Rotterdam and Bremen/Bremerhaven in Northern Europe, all reporting downturns in container handling, Hamburg was the only major port in the range to report an increase. At the four major ports in the European North Range, for the first six months average container throughput fell by 4.6 percent. Against this trend Hamburg, gained 1.1 percentage points, being the only top port to achieve growth in container handling.
At 61.8 million tons, throughput in Germany’s largest universal port was 2.7 percent lower than in the comparable period of the previous year. The drop in the total throughput can be explained by the weaker figure for bulk cargo handling. At 17.6 million tons, handling in Hamburg was down by 8.9 percent. Totals for each of the three segments were lower. At 3.0 million tons, suction cargoes were down by 7.2 percent, at 10.2 million tons, grab cargoes by 3.2 percent, and at 4.5 million tons, liquid cargoes by 20.5 percent. The overall total was partly the result of stiffer EU sanctions against Russia, along with changes dictated by the market in the trading and transport of raw materials.
Many challenges for the Port of Hamburg
“The first half of 2022 confronted companies in the Port of Hamburg, their workers, also all our logistics partners and port customers, with very special challenges. The war in Ukraine, for instance, led to far-reaching sanctions in foreign trade that affected and will further affect seaborne cargo throughput in the Port of Hamburg. Together with the almost complete cessation of container transport with Russian ports, another consequence of the Russian attack on Ukraine – apart from downturns in general cargo handling – was also a steep reduction in bulk cargo handling,” said Axel Mattern, CEO of Port Hamburg Marketing.
Mattern pointed out that not only war in Ukraine, but also the repercussions of the global corona pandemic, will continue to cause transport and supply bottlenecks for trade and industry. On many routes, this is leading to longer transit times and steeply increased freight rates. In Mattern’s view, the main causes of supply chains thrown off schedule, as well as delays and disruption in worldwide transport processes, should not be attributed to ports alone. Instead, it is at the interface between land and sea transport that such factors as shipping bottlenecks and delays in truck and rail traffic are most strikingly visible and notable for port customers and the public. “The weeklong lockdown in the Port of Shanghai, and ship arrivals thrown off schedule, resulted in extraordinary peak loads at the port’s handling terminals. Containers not collected punctually, and blocking urgently needed handling space, involved additional effort plus problems for the efficient organization of handling and pre- and on-carriage transport between seaports and hinterland destinations,” added Mattern.
Better conditions for all transport modes
To prevent further disruptions in the Port of Hamburg, the Hamburg Port Authority – HPA ensures the maintenance and further development of the infrastructure. “As the Port Authority our core task is to create a functioning and efficient infrastructure for logistics chains and hence for supplying Germany and other parts of Europe via the Port of Hamburg. If supply chains fail to keep to schedule, as we have been experiencing for months, this task not only attracts more attention from the public but also assumes even greater importance. With the completion of the adjustment of the navigation channel in January, our customers are now able to handle more containers per ship call. That enhances the competitiveness of Hamburg as a centre and enables us to supply the economy and consumers throughout Germany more efficiently. Specifically, 117 Ultra Large Container Ship (ULCS) immediately took advantage of the navigational channel adjustment during the first half of 2022. Compared to 2021, the average draft of such vessels increased by approximately 0.5 metres. Eight percent more containers were handled per ship call. This underlines the immediate acceptance by our customers of the channel adjustment.
With shore power supply for container ships and cruise ships, we are now tackling our next major project. Construction work started in the first half 2022 at the three container terminals Burchardkai, Tollerort und Eurogate, along with the Steinwerder cruise terminal. Trial operation is due to commence in 2023. This makes the Port of Hamburg the European pioneer in the field of shore power supply and sustainability”, explained Friedrich Stuhrmann, Chief Commercial Officer at the HPA.
Hamburg’s Top Ten partner countries for seaborne container handling
The EU sanctions imposed on Russia in the first half caused a 50.9 percent drop in container handling between Hamburg and Russian ports to 79,000 TEU. Russia accordingly fell from its Top Ten ranking in fourth place, to 15th place.
No change occurred among the Port of Hamburg’s three most important trading partners on the basis of throughput volumes. These were China, including Hong Kong with 1.3 million TEU, up by 5.8 percent, the USA with 291,000 TEU, 3.9 percent lower, and Singapore, 6.7 percent ahead with 218,000 TEU. These were followed by Poland, up by 53.2 percent at 166,000 TEU, Sweden, 8.3 percent ahead with 157,000 TEU, Finland, 31.5 percent up at 108,000 TEU, Denmark, up 2.8 percent at 103,000 TEU, Brazil, 28 percent lower at 102,000 TEU, United Kingdom 19.8 percent down at 100,000 TEU; and South Korea, 18.6 percent lower at 95,000 TEU. Among the reasons for the satisfactory throughput increases in seaborne container throughput for the Port of Hamburg with Poland, Finland, Sweden and Denmark were the restructuring and concentration of feeder services. The use of Hamburg to serve the Baltic region as a hub for transhipment traffic has increased again. Total first-half container transhipment throughput in Hamburg was up by 2.7 percent at 1.6 million TEU.
Railborne seaport-hinterland transport volume at previous year’s level
During the first six months of 2022, 1.4 million TEU were transported on the Port Railway network – a drop of just 0.2 percent compared to last year. A total of 23.6 million tons, down 0.3 percent were transported to and from the Port of Hamburg during the first half of the year. “Along with strikes by port workers over several days, extensive construction work in the port area and on the route network were the main causes for the somewhat lower total. With a 52.8 share of the modal split, rail freight transport remains the top carrier for the Port of Hamburg’s incoming and departing traffic,” said Mattern. Around 210 freight trains with more than 5,500 railcars use the Port Railway’s high-performance 300-kilometre network daily. “In recent weeks, various factors – among these the high number of overdue ships – disrupted rail clearance in the Port of Hamburg. Terminal and rail operators are doing their utmost to reduce handling bottlenecks to a minimum where possible, or to avoid these,” added Mattern. Ulfert Cornelius, CEO at EVOS Hamburg agreed: “For Germany and Central Europe, the Port of Hamburg’s superb rail network infrastructure is of fundamental national economic importance. This applies not only to container handling, but also liquid bulk cargoes. That the Port of Hamburg is capable of closing massive gaps in the supply chain of these liquid bulk cargoes, is especially apparent just at the moment. These gaps have occurred due to the present low water level on the Rhine and it was possible to considerably compensate these missing inland waterway transports by rail transports via Hamburg. That has contributed considerably to reducing the negative repercussions on the national economy.”
Prospects for 2022
For the coming weeks, the Port of Hamburg’s marketing organization would like to see an agreement reached between negotiators in the still unresolved tariff conflict between ver.di trade union and German seaport operators. Against the background of a deteriorating overall economic situation, which is likely to be characterised by an expected rise in energy prices and a weakening in consumption, further development of seaborne cargo handling is more likely to weaken by the end of the year. Yet a transfer of bulk cargo shipments caused by the ongoing low water period on the Rhine could ensure growth for a limited period. As a versatile universal port and leading rail port, the Port of Hamburg could benefit from this.
A cargo handling total of around 130 million tons and 8.7 million TEU following stabilization of transport chains and the world economic situation may be optimistic, but is not out of the question.