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  February 22nd, 2018 | Written by

Port 4.0

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  • Container throughput developments in 2017 were mixed at the Port of Hamburg.
  • Restrictions in force on the Elbe are causing shipowners to use available container space to shift loaded boxes.
  • Hamburg handles the lowest proportion of empty containers of Northern European ports and the highest of loaded boxes.

In the last business year, the services provided at the Port of Hamburg lead to a result comparable with the previous year. With the impending adjustment to the Elbe fairway, potential for growth will be enhanced. Through investments in infrastructure the Port of Hamburg counts among the cutting edge hubs on the international sea trades. At the same time, companies are driving change in the port with the development of digital business models.

At 136.5 million tons, in 2017 seaborne cargo throughput in Hamburg, comprising general and bulk cargoes, was stable at a high level. A slight downturn occurred in handling of containerized general cargo at 8.8 million TEU, being one percent lower. At 44.7 million tons, the bulk cargo total was at the previous year’s level.

Volumes at Port of Hamburg, January vs. December, 2017 and 2016. (Source: Port of Hamburg)

When it came to container throughput, developments in 2017 varied, noted Axel Mattern, joint CEO of Port of Port of Hamburg Marketing. “Throughput of loaded boxes was unchanged at 7.6 million TEU, whereas for empty boxes we have to report a downturn of 88,000 TEU to 1.2 million TEU,” he added. “Against the background of the still outstanding fairway adjustment on the Elbe, and the economic sanctions still in force on trade with Russia that is of such significance for the Port of Hamburg, the result in the container segment is in line with our expectations.”

In Port of Hamburg Marketing’s view, the restrictions in force on the Elbe and the narrow tidal window are causing shipowners to use available transport space on their mega-containerships primarily to shift loaded boxes. Empty containers are increasingly being routed via other ports in Northern Europe. Of the big container ports there, Hamburg handles the lowest proportion of empty containers at 13.0 percent of the total, and the highest proportion of loaded boxes at 87 percent.

“Once the fairway adjustment has been completed, we shall be able to handle substantially more containers and bulk cargo in Hamburg. Terminals and other port facilities are well prepared for growth,” said HHM Executive Board colleague Ingo Egloff. “Increased draft on the Elbe and simplification of maneuvering by the construction of a passing zone on the Elbe downstream from Hamburg will facilitate more efficient use of hold capacities and crucially simplify passing for ultra-large vessels.”

The Port of Hamburg’s marketing organization also pointed out a further increase in average containership size. Since the first calls in the port by vessels with a slot capacity of over 18,000 TEU, the total number of these has tripled. In 2017 Hamburg alone received 102 calls by ULCVs in the size bracket 18,000 to 20,000+ TEU, a rise of 52.2 percent. In March the “CMA CGM Antoine de Saint Exupery”, with a slot capacity of 20,776 TEU, the largest-ever containership is expected to call in Hamburg for the first time.

For the handling segment bulk cargoes, comprising grab, suction, and liquid cargoes and contributing one-third to the Port of Hamburg’s volume, trends on imports and exports differed. A slight downturn was evident in imports, down one percent at 33.1 million tons. At 11.6 million tons, by contrast exports of these were slightly higher (up 1.1 percent).

2017 brought a record result for the grab cargoes segment, with the total 7.0 percent higher at 23.5 million tons. Imports at 19.6 million tons (+5.8 percent) benefited once again from a strong tailwind. At 7.8 million tons (up 5.7 percent), imports of coal set a fresh throughput record. At 10.1 million tons (up 6.8 percent), ore imports were at the highest level of the past decade. Exports of grab cargoes, 13.0 percent ahead at 4.0 million tons, performed even more strongly. At 4.0 million tons (down 5.6 percent) imports of suction cargoes (Agribulk) were weaker than in the previous year. Exports at 3.4 million tons (down 21.8 percent) were also weaker. This was mainly attributable to the drop in the volume of wheat exports. Totalling 9.5 million tons (down 11.9 percent), imports of liquid cargoes such as oil products, fell. By contrast, strong growth was reported for exports, which were 17.7 percent higher at 4.2 million tons.

Following the end of operations at Buss Hansa Terminals, throughput of conventional general cargo, at 1.4 million tons (down 6.0 percent) was lower than in the previous year, as expected. This segment covers large plant elements, heavy cargo and vehicle shipments.

On the occasion of the Port of Hamburg annual press conference, Hamburg’s Senator for Economics, Transport and Innovation spoke very hopefully on the development prospects for Germany’s largest universal port. “We have many questions to address concerning the future. We must get to grips with Industry 4.0, with digitalization and how this will change supply chains,” said Senator Frank Horch. “We must develop the port to enable it to play a prominent role. The Port of Hamburg must become a Port 4.0. We will improve the infrastructure, implement the fairway adjustments and secure good general conditions. When extending the port it will be important to identify how Hamburg as a broad based universal port can be economically sustainable, strong and generate new impulses. We are ready to take new paths – in usage, the type of development and in the partners we will achieve this with.”

One example Horsch cited is the new mobile standard 5G, which is being tested in the Port of Hamburg. “5G offers a level of security, reliability and speed that current mobile networks are unable to match. It provides the HPA with a wholly new set of application options,” said Jens Meier, CEO of the HPA. “The testbed allows us to study the future technology and co-shape the standard, which will not only benefit the port but the entire city of Hamburg.”