Port of Hamburg in a challenging environment

17 May 2023 10:30 Handling results

The problematic trend in the world economy is affecting Port of Hamburg throughput figures. As in other ports of Northern Europe, seaborne cargo throughput is falling, yet the trend in certain sea trades is positive. As an all-purpose port, Hamburg is profiting from a rise in bulk cargo handling.

As elsewhere, in the Port of Hamburg seaborne cargo throughput for its terminals is currently subject to a challenging economic environment. Persistent geopolitical tension, EU economic sanctions against Russia, high inflation, global reluctance to make purchases and massive warehouse stocks are restraining cargo handling in European ports. In these aggravated conditions, with seaborne cargo throughput of 28.1 million tons in the first quarter of 2023, down 10.2 percent on the same period of the previous year, Germany’s largest port succeeded in maintaining throughput volume at the same level as the final quarter of last year. Container throughput at 18.6 million tons was 15.9 percent lower than in the same period of the previous year, with the total of 1.9 million TEU being 16.9 percent down.

Axel Mattern, CEO of HHM - Port of Hamburg Marketing, stressed that “The tough general economic situation is reflected in current throughput figures for all North Range ports. Among these competitors, Hamburg lies here in mid-field. When comparing quarterly returns for the current and last years, it needs to be remembered that at the beginning of last year, Russia was still the Port of Hamburg’s fourth largest trading partner. Sanctions came into force after the invasion of Ukraine, as is noticeable in this comparison – freight volumes to and from Russia are now missing from the general view. In addition, the at times unstable economic situation in China on account of the pandemic has continued into this year. Neither of these factors were without repercussions on the Port of Hamburg.” Apart from developments in the European and world economies, the occurrence of strikes locally also impacted the Port of Hamburg’s annual result.

Positive developments in North America trades and on bulk cargo handling

With handling at 152,000 TEU, up 9.5 percent on the previous year, the USA trades remain a positive feature of seaborne container transport via the Port of Hamburg, with the United States continuing to fill second place after China among the Port of Hamburg’s top trading partners. With 31.7 percent growth to 52,000 TEU meanwhile, trade with Canada also grew robustly.
Up by 5.4 percent on the same period of last year, at 9.3 million tons the trend was also positive on bulk cargo handling in Hamburg. The best performer was the liquid cargo sector, with an increase of 12.3 percent. Imports of oil products rose by 27.4 percent. Since existing handling capacities facilitated import and further transport of energy sources required at short notice, the port contributed to the reliability of energy supplies. The agribulk sector also grew. Higher exports of grain and feedstuffs, along with higher imports of oleaginous fruits, fuelled an 11.8 percent growth to 1.8 million tons. Grab cargo throughput was almost unchanged on the first quarter of the previous year.

More Megamax vessels in Hamburg

With a 17.5 percent increase to 67 calls by containerships of the Megamax class, those with capacities of over 18,000 TEU, the trend for larger containerships to call the Port of Hamburg was maintained. “Many newbuilds ordered by shipowners are now entering service. The first call in Hamburg by the ‘OOCL Spain’, with a capacity 24,188 TEU, illustrated this. This persistent trend shows the urgent necessity of securing the water depths essential for an ability once again to eliminate any temporary restriction of water depths on the tidal Elbe,” said Mattern.

Continuity for rail services

During the first quarter, 11.6 million tons were transported to and from the hinterland by rail, or 3.4 percent less than in the same period the previous year. The downturn in seaborne container throughput caused correspondingly fewer - 10.1 percent – containers (635,00 TEU) to be transported by rail in pre- and on-carriage. Wagonload transport was maintained at a stable level.

The Port’s hinterland infrastructure and intermodality proved factors vital for its resilience and adaptability as a hub. “Primarily for container transport, the first quarter brought difficult operating conditions. Some shipping companies, for instance, cancelled ship calls, while several strikes in March affected port operation in the short term. These factors made it difficult for rail operators to fill their trains,” said Mattern.


For the remainder of the year, a recovery in Port of Hamburg throughput total may be expected. “During the first three months we had to report an extreme underlying trend statistically, with the very distinct difference in the background economic factors in the first quarters of the years 2022 and 2023. Multiple crises caused disruption of supply chains and weak economic growth. This has affected throughput,” explained Axel Mattern, HHM’s CEO.

Traffic with the USA sets positive accents in sea container traffic via the Port of Hamburg.

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      Mathias Schulz

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