Port of Hamburg reports downturn in seaborne cargo throughput in first nine months

16 Nov 2015 09:38 Economy

Even Hamburg as Germany’s largest universal port clearly felt the effects of weakness in Chinese foreign trade plus the steep downturn in trade with Russia during the first nine months of the year. Totalling 104.6 million tons, seaborne cargo throughput in Hamburg was 4.8 percent lower than last year. Even if bulk cargo handling in the first three quarters totalled 34.3 million tons and was therefore once again substantially higher, being up 8.7 percent, this could not fully offset the decline in general cargo throughput. Container throughput in the first nine months totalled 6.7 million TEU (20-ft standard containers), down by 9.2 percent. It proved impossible to maintain the previous year’s strong growth.
The downward trend in container traffic with Russia appears to have ceased and stability to be setting in. In the first nine months, at 323,000 TEU handling of boxes for Hamburg’s third most important partner for container traffic was down by 36 percent. Along with a weak rouble, the low oil price and the generally continuing economic recession in Russia were the main causes of the fall apparent in container throughput. “The downturn of container traffic with Russia of the order of more than one-third hit us especially hard because the bulk of all containers were transhipment containers that were loaded on to, or discharged from oceangoing containerships. This second step in handling per box and per direction of transport from feedership on to the oceangoing containership or the reverse is now only occurring to a much lesser extent, a fact also reflected in the overall statistics for containers handled in Hamburg. A recovery can hardly be expected in the near future. We assume that container throughput with Russia is now stabilizing and that perhaps the first signs of an upward trend will be apparent next year,” said Axel Mattern, Executive Board Member of Port of Hamburg Marketing (HHM). “These very severe fluctuations in trade with Russia are still very familiar to us as a result of the worldwide economic and financial crisis. We shall also survive this drop. The good contacts of our port representative office in St. Petersburg and our dedicated port marketing in Russia form a splendid basis for the desirable upswing in foreign trade,” added Ingo Egloff of Port of Hamburg Marketing’s Executive Board.
At the Port of Hamburg’s quarterly press conference, Axel Mattern and Ingo Egloff emphasized that apart from the downturn in the Russia trade, the weak throughput trend on container traffic with China had strongly influenced total throughput for the first nine months. Container throughput with China of 1.9 million TEU in this period represented a fall of 14.9 percent. In the months of August and September, the jump in volume otherwise caused by supplies for the Christmas trade almost completely failed to materialize. “Since China is our strongest trading partner in container traffic, and large quantities of containers are transhipped via Hamburg for transport into the Baltic region, this downturn is painful for the Port of Hamburg,” said Axel Mattern. “On top of this, the long overdue dredging of the Lower and Outer Elbe add to the difficulty of handling especially large ships better and more flexibly,” added Mattern. If Hamburg is to continue to perform its vital logistics function of hub for transhipment cargoes, deepening of the navigation channel is of the utmost urgency for Germany’s largest universal port. “Some competing ports in the North Range are specifically attacking the related trades and are taking quantities away from Hamburg because the restrictions on the Elbe constrict utilization of the transport capacities of large vessels. Arriving in or leaving the Port of Hamburg, following successful dredging of the navigation channel, which will produce one extra metre of draft, an ultra large containership could transport between 1600 and 1800 more containers (TEU) to Hamburg,” stressed Mattern. Against the background of increases in the number of calls by particularly large containerships with slot capacities of 10,000 to 13,999 TEU, which rose in the first nine months to 394 (up by 19.4 percent), and by vessels with slot capacities of 14,000 to 19,000 or more, TEU slot capacity, which reached 88 (+100 percent), the serious delay in dredging of the channel of the Lower and Outer Elbe hampers smooth access to the Port of Hamburg.
“Against the background of a somewhat weak trend in total container transport volume generally, and new handling capacities in competing ports in the North Range, we find ourselves locked in intense competition. Here we are seeing competitors in the range attempting to gain cargo in the Baltic with specific measures on prices. Isolated direct services to the Baltic region still further increase competition between container ports in Northern Europe,” explains Mattern. In the first nine months, Hamburg’s container traffic with ports in the Baltic region was down. A total of 1.4 million TEU (down 22.4 percent) were handled in Hamburg for this trade route. Since Hamburg with its strong Baltic trades can claim a relatively high transhipment rate among ports in the North Range, the downturn in Chinese and Russian cargo as part of container throughput with the Baltic region is more markedly apparent in Hamburg.  “Total container throughput in the ports of the Baltic region is affected by this downturn. A total of twelve seaports in Russia, the Baltic States, Sweden, Finland and Poland report a fall in container throughput that on average represents a drop of 18 percent on the same period of the previous year. For Baltic ports as a whole, that entailed a fall of the order of around one million TEU.

Gratifying growth in seaport-hinterland traffic

Even if Hamburg’s land-side hinterland continued to develop well during the first nine months, this was insufficient to offset the downturn in transhipment throughput by sea. Against the trend, in the period between January and September Hamburg’s seaport-hinterland traffic generally developed very gratifyingly. A total of 4.5 million TEU (up by 1.0 percent) were transported. “That is a fresh record for shore-side container transport. Rail container transport climbed to 1.8 million TEU. This 4.1 percent advance just shows that for container transport, rail is making above-average progress,” stressed Mattern.

Handling trends for general and bulk cargoes

At 1.5 million tons (down 8.5 percent), in the first nine months non-containerized general cargo throughput, of oversize plant elements and wheeled cargo for example, lagged behind the previous year’s. Despite a rise in imports, that at 428,000 tons achieved a 7.2 percent advance, throughput was lower of project and heavy cargoes, vehicles, iron and steel on the export side. At 892,000 tons, these were lower by 14.5 percent and caused a slight downturn in this segment. Metal imports, e.g. of slabs from Russia and the East Coast of South America for steel production, were the main factor behind the favourable import trend there.
The trend for bulk cargo handling differed completely from the one for general cargo and container throughput. In the first three quarters of the year, the total of 34.3 million tons (up by 8.7 percent) suggests a record figure for the full year. In this segment double-digit growth rates were based on grab cargo throughput of 16.9 million tons, up by 13.9 percent, and suction cargo throughput of 7.0 million tons, up by 13.3 percent. Of grab cargoes, the bulk comprised ore and coal imports, at 7.6 million tons and 5.6 million tons respectively. On the export side, growth of 15.1 percent in fertilizers handled produced total throughput of 2.6 million tons for the Port of Hamburg. The throughput trend was also positive for the remaining commodities in this segment such as scrap metal, building materials, stone and soil. At 609,000 tons, total throughput for this group was ahead by 25.9 percent. In the period January to September, a total of 10.4 million tons (down by 1.4 percent) of liquid cargoes were handled in Hamburg. At 4.9 million tons, down by 1.7 percent, imports of oil products accounted for the major share here. On the export side, throughput of oil products, achieving a 12.2 percent advance to 2.3 million tons, made up the bulk of the export total of 3.4 million tons (up by 1.7 percent). In the suction cargo segment, booming grain exports, 38.1 percent higher at 3.5 million tons, helped to produce the positive segment total of 7.0 million tons, up by 13.3 percent.


The Port of Hamburg provides employment for more than 153,000 people in the Hamburg Metropolitan Region. With gross value-added of 20.5 billion euros, it is also of great importance for the entire German economy. To keep the universal port on its growth course, Axel Mattern and Ingo Egloff reminded their audience that apart from dredging of the navigation channel on the Lower and Outer Elbe, adaptation and upgrading of the access and dispersal corridors for freight transport by rail, truck and inland waterway vessel are essential. For the year 2015 as a whole, the Port of Hamburg’s marketing organization reckons with a continued positive trend in bulk cargo throughput and a drop in container throughput. For the end of the year, total throughput of 138 million tons (down by 5 percent) may be expected, with container throughput not quite reaching nine million TEU. 

Further information

Charts of the press conference as PDF downlaod

Axel Mattern, Stefan Kunze, Michael Zeinert, Ingo Egloff