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Port of Hamburg boosts container throughput market share 17 August 2022

Upward trend for container throughput, downturn in bulk cargo handling

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%. 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%. 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% 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%. Totals for each of the three segments were lower. At 3.0 million tons, suction cargoes were down by 7.2%, at 10.2 million tons, grab cargoes by 3.2%, and at 4.5 million tons, liquid cargoes by 20.5%. 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.

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. 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 organisation of handling and pre- and on-carriage transport between seaports and hinterland destinations.

To prevent further disruptions in the Port of Hamburg, the Hamburg Port Authority – HPA ensures the maintenance and further development of the infrastructure. With the completion of the adjustment of the navigation channel in January, customers are now able to handle more containers per ship call. That enhances the competitiveness of Hamburg as a centre and enables it 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. 8.0% more containers were handled per ship call. This underlines the immediate acceptance by customers of the channel adjustment.

The EU sanctions imposed on Russia in the first half caused a 50.9% 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%, the US with 291,000 TEU, 3.9% lower, and Singapore, 6.7% ahead with 218,000 TEU. These were followed by Poland, up by 53.2% at 166,000 TEU, Sweden, 8.3% ahead with 157,000 TEU, Finland, 31.5% up at 108,000 TEU, Denmark, up 2.8% at 103,000 TEU, Brazil, 28.0% lower at 102,000 TEU, UK 19.8% down at 100,000 TEU; and South Korea, 18.6% 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% at 1.6 million TEU.

During the first six months of 2022, 1.4 million TEU were transported on the Port Railway network – a drop of just 0.2% compared to last year. A total of 23.6 million tons, down 0.3% were transported to and from the Port of Hamburg during the first half of the year.

For the coming weeks, 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 stabilisation of transport chains and the world economic situation may be optimistic, but is not out of the question.