Hamburg Port Container Volumes Rise as Baltics Offset Asia Drop

The Port of Hamburg, Europe’s second-largest container harbor, reported a 5.2 percent increase in first-quarter container volumes as rising trade with the Baltic Sea countries and North America offset a decline in Asia.

The number of standard containers, known as TEU, handled in Germany’s largest port increased to 2.2 million in the three months through March, according to a statement handed to reporters at a press conference in Hamburg today. Asian container volumes declined 5 percent to 1.2 million boxes, while trade with the countries around the Baltic Sea and North America rose 19.6 percent and 61 percent, respectively, the port said.

“The decline in Asian traffic is a snapshot of the restructuring of different regular services,” Port of Hamburg Marketing Chief Executive Officer Claudia Roller said in the statement, adding that some lines have cut capacity between Asia and Europe. “During the first half of this year, we expect new Far East container services in the Port of Hamburg again.”

The world’s largest container shipping lines lost money last year because of high fuel expenses, overcapacity and a price war on routes between Asia and Europe that depressed freight rates. In response, companies such as Hamburg-based Hapag-Lloyd AG have raised rates and formed vessel-sharing alliances with other shipping lines to try to return to profit.

Container volume growth in Hamburg has declined for six consecutive quarters, after advancing 24 percent in the three months through September 2010, amid a slowdown in the global economic expansion and container volume growth. Still, Hamburg stole market share from its main rivals Rotterdam, Europe’s No. 1 container port, and Antwerp in the first quarter and said today it expects growth in its container volumes in 2012.

Hamburger Hafen & Logistik AG, which handles more than two-thirds of cargo containers in Hamburg, cut its sales forecast for 2012 after reporting a 41 percent drop in first-quarter profit because of terminal modernization costs. The port operator predicts sales will decline to 1.1 billion euros ($1.4 billion) from 1.22 billion euros last year, compared with a March 30 forecast of 5 percent growth, it said on May 15.

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