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Port of Hamburg: Cargo handling record despite economic downturn in Germany

Handling cargo totalling 92.4mn tonnes, the Port of Hamburg's growth rate in 2001 was 8.5% up on the previous year. The annual volume total anticipated after publication of first half returns was thus handsomely exceeded. In the second half of 2001, growth continued at virtually at the same pace, and this also applied to containerized cargo.

Hamburg was thus among the small group of European ports to achieve substantial growth in 2001. The port succeeded yet again in gaining market share. With growth accelerating by 8.5% generally and with container traffic up by 10.4%, Hamburg reported the highest growth rates anywhere in Europe. In all cargo-handling categories, i.e., containers, conventional and bulk cargo, volume was up on the previous year's results. Rotterdam and Antwerp reported lower volumes of cargo handled. The Bremen ports achieved a slight advance of 2.7%. For the first time Hamburg achieved faster growth than its partner city Marseilles.

Container traffic up

Containers represent about 54% of all cargoes handled. Here Hamburg performed considerably better than its competitors, indeed by a considerable margin. The number of containers handled advanced by 10.4% to 4.7mn TEU. The worldwide economic downturn in 2001 caused stagnation in the quantity of containers handled by the world's top ten container ports. Following attainment in the two previous years of increases in volumes generally in excess of 10%, last year Hamburg achieved the second strongest growth after Shanghai and climbed from 9th to 8th place in the world container port rankings. Hamburg also strengthened its place as the second largest container port in Europe.

Asian trade

In 1997-98 the headlong economic growth of what are known as the Asian "tiger states" of Korea, Taiwan, Singapore and other countries in Southeast Asia, was interrupted by the Asian economic crisis. This was triggered by shortfalls in export revenues for these countries. They depend to a considerable extent on the manufacture and export of electrical and electronic goods.

The economic downturn in certain countries of Asia had also been caused by slack demand in worldwide trade in electrical goods. Demand for computer hardware and accessories has been falling since the end of 2000.

The Far Eastern Freight Conference estimates that last year cargo stagnated in traffic between Europe and East Asia. Westbound traffic from East Asia to Europe that has normally powered growth with annual increases averaging 10%, also stagnated in 2001. Import volumes from the tiger states, and Taiwan in particular, were actually falling substantially.

Forecasts two years ago of volume increases amounting to between 7-8% prompted shipowners to invest in a fleet expansion programme. The bulk of the new tonnage was laid down two years ago. These moves have caused considerable surpluses, and to the laying up of some ships at the end of the year 2001 as well as the suspension of certain services until further notice.

China trade

Container traffic between Hamburg and Asia as a whole increased by 6.7%. With a total volume of around 790,000 TEU, China is Hamburg's most important trading partner. This makes Hamburg the most significant cargo-handling centre in Europe for goods from this vast country. On container traffic, all the leading Chinese carriers are customers in Hamburg. Among these are COSCO, China Shipping Container Line and Sinotrans. Hamburg offers the most frequent sailings to China of any port in Northern Europe. As in the previous year, China accounted for the largest slice of container traffic growth of any country in East Asia. Such traffic was 13.5% up on the previous year. It proved impossible to sustain the previous year's volume in container traffic between Hamburg and Taiwan. Reduced imports from Japan also meant that total traffic fell slightly. With Korea, a shortfall in imports was more than offset by increased exports.

Almost 50% of all container handling in Hamburg is in trade with Asia. Many leading liner services and alliances of shipping companies have concentrated their services on Hamburg as main port for North Europe, for the most part further strengthening these last year.

Foremost among these are such consortia of shipping companies as the Grand Alliance, New World Alliance and the groups centred on the Korean shipowners Hanjin and the French shipowners CMA-CGM. A new weekly service to East Asia with China as the centrepiece was inaugurated by New World Alliance in July 2001. In North Europe this service calls only at Hamburg and Antwerp, with Hamburg as the last port for loading.

Another factor in Hamburg's volume growth on services with East Asia was the deployment of larger ships, mainly with a slot capacity of between 5500 and 6500 TEU. Additional new liner services calling at Hamburg on routes with Asia were set up by Persian shipowners IRISL as well as a shipping company consortium comprising COSCO, Evergreen, K-Line and MISC (IEX or India Europe Express) on the route to India. This IEX service was integrated into the new Indian Subcontinent Europe Service at the beginning of January 2002. Seven units with slot capacity of between 1640 TEU and 2700 TEU will be deployed on the new service. COSCO is meanwhile involved here solely as a slot charterer.

Hamburg port cargo handling tops 100mn mark

At around 103mn tonnes, in 2001 the volume of seaborne and inland waterway cargoes handled in the Port of Hamburg set a fresh record.

With a total of 3.366mn tonnes, 2001 brought to a halt the decline in recent years of conventional cargoes handled.


At the moment the prevalent view on the economic trend in Germany is sceptical. A marked slowdown in growth in German foreign trade set in during the final few months of last year. The latest data suggest that trade with the countries of Asia-of special importance for Hamburg-was also flagging by the end of 2001. Existing forecasts see no prospect of any reversal of the trend.

Despite the adverse economic situation last year Hamburg succeeded in achieving traffic growth, this being due to its strong position in the growing traffic with China. Its favourable location at the intersection between the North Sea and the Baltic also produced growth in traffic on feeder services. This effect should also lead to further increases in container traffic in 2002, although several container shipping companies have reduced shipping capacity deployed on Far East-Europe services and/or will be implementing further cuts in February 2002.

On the basis of adjustments so far made, Hamburg will actually be less affected by these than other ports in Northern Europe, all the more so since Taiwanese shipowner Evergreen is planning to considerably augment its East Asia service Hamburg.