Bulk cargo handling up at Hamburg


port_of_hamburg_1500x1000In the universal port of Hamburg, for the first six months of the year bulk cargo handling at 23.6 million tons was 12.3% up on the previous year. First-half container throughput reached 4.5 million TEU, remaining 6.8% below the impressive previous year’s total.

On bulk cargo handling, with a dramatic rise of 19% it was especially the strong coal and ore imports, totalling 11.5 million tons, which led to grab cargoes powering growth. Coal imports reached 3.8 million tons, producing strong growth of 46.3%.

Apart from the steelworks of Northern and Eastern Germany, the main customers for coal are industry, and power stations. When running at full capacity, the new Moorburg coal-fired power station in operation in Hamburg since March this year will require up to 4.2 million tons of hard coal annually. Coal imports are unloaded at its own facility.

“This volume of coal will enable up to 11 billion kilowatt hours of power to be generated, or almost as much as Hamburg needs in a year. At the same time, the  plant produces one-quarter less CO2 than older coal-fired stations, and moreover can be steered so flexibly as to react very effectively to fluctuating power input derived from renewable energy sources,” said Pieter Wasmuth, head of Vattenfall for Hamburg and Northern Germany.

Due to increased grain exports, especially, the suction cargoes segment achieved a particularly good result at 5.3 million tons, up by 22.4%. First-half throughput of liquid cargoes at 6.7 million tons was 3.3% slightly below the comparable figure last year.

At 876,000 tons, handling of non-containerised general cargo, large plant elements and wheeled cargoes for example, remained 5.8% below the previous year’s total. At 4.5 million TEU, container handling in the first six months of the year did not keep pace with the previous year’s strong performance. The 6.8% downturn was primarily attributable to weak foreign trade for the port’s two leading partners, China and Russia, for which container traffic totals via Hamburg were distinctly lower than last year’s, for China by 10.9% at 1.3 million TEU and for Russia by 35.9% at 212,000 TEU.

Since Hamburg with its strong Baltic trades handles an around six percentage points higher proportion of transhipment cargo than Antwerp or Rotterdam, the downturn in cargoes to/from China and Russia hit container handling at Germany’s largest universal port especially hard. A large part of the cargo for/from China and Russia is transhipped via Hamburg, being transferred from large containerships on to feederships, or vice versa.

“In the first half of 2015 China’s total foreign trade shrank noticeably, by 6.9%. The weak trend in foreign trade was especially apparent in exports from China to Europe on account of the costlier yuan. During the first six months of the years the euro was on average 19% lower than the yuan, making purchase of Chinese goods costlier for European importers,” explained Axel Mattern, CEO of Port of Hamburg Marketing.

On container traffic with Russia, in addition to the trade sanctions still in force, other factors such as the weak rouble, the fall in the oil price and economic recession have also caused the distinct downturn in container throughput evident in Hamburg.

“Goods from abroad are becoming costlier for Russian importers. Willingness to consume or to invest in Russia is noticeably dwindling. The IMF is assuming a 3.4% drop in Russian GDP this year. The fact that 32.1% fewer containers were handled in the first half of the year in Russia’s Baltic ports than in 2014 serves to underline this description of the current economic situation,” said Ingo Egloff, CEO of Port of Hamburg Marketing.

At the Port of Hamburg’s half-year press conference both Mr Egloff and Mr Mattern emphasised that the weak trend in transhipment throughput with China and Russia could not be offset by the excellent development of continental services with the hinterland. Hamburg’s seaport-hinterland traffic developed extremely well in the first half.

“Altogether 2.9 million TEU were transported, an increase of 2.3%. That set a new record for land-side container transport. Container transport by rail climbed to 1.2 million TEU. That is an advance of 6.4% and clearly shows that rail is capable of above-average growth in container transport,” said Mr Mattern.

The half-year figures show how essential it is to implement the still outstanding dredging of the navigation channel to facilitate improved handling of ultra-large vessels, so that large quantities of transhipment cargo should continue to come to Hamburg, rather than being handled in other ports in the North Range because restrictions on the Elbe limit exploitation of mega-ships’ transport capacities.

“Following dredging of the navigation channel, an especially large containership could transport up to 1,800 more loaded containers (TEU) both inbound and outbound. The number of ultra-large containership calls rose again in the first half of 2015. Those with slot capacity of up to 13,999teu made 255 calls, or 18% more, and ships with over 14,000teu, 53 calls, or 96% more. The still not implemented dredging of the channel of the Lower and Outer Elbe must not become a competitive handicap for Germany’s largest port. Against the background of new handling capacities in the North Range, we find ourselves engaged in intense competition with such major ports as Rotterdam und Antwerp. At the same time we are seeing that generally sluggish container throughput plus occasional direct services to the Baltic region additionally fuel this competition,” said Mr Mattern.

Employing more than 153,000 people in the Hamburg Metropolitan Region and generating added value of 20.5 billion euros, the Port of Hamburg is also of immense importance for the entire German national economy.  To keep the universal port on its growth path, in the opinion of Axel Mattern und Ingo Egloff, apart from the dredging of the Lower and Outer Elbe, adaptation and expansion of access and dispersal corridors for freight transport by rail, truck and inland waterway craft are essential.

For 2015 the Port of Hamburg’s marketing organisation believes there will be a further increase in bulk cargo handling and a slight overall downturn in container throughput. By the end of the year, seaborne cargo throughput of 141 million tons, including nine million TEU, is possible. For this, it is essential that seaborne foreign trade with core markets should become stable.