Hamburg Port Turns to Baltics as China Container Trade Falls

Hamburg, Europe’s third-biggest port, compensated for declining Chinese container traffic with a steep increase in Baltic Sea trade in the first six months.

Throughput rose 2.1 percent to 4.5 million 20-foot equivalent units, or TEUs. Traffic to and from China fell 3 percent, while trade with Baltic Sea states such as Russia, Sweden and Poland increased by 8 percent, said Axel Mattern, a board member of Port of Hamburg Marketing.

“The solid growth in Hamburg is against the trend seen in other big North European ports,” Mattern said at a news conference in Hamburg. He said seafreight volumes in the region fell an average of 0.4 percent, while container throughput declined 1.2 percent.

Hamburg, which is Europe’s second-biggest container port, faces increasing numbers of big box ships while a dredging project to deepen the river Elbe connecting the port and the North Sea has been delayed by an environmentalist lawsuit. A ruling isn’t expected before 2014.

The number of vessels longer than 330 meters and 45 meters wide rose 41 percent from 2008 to 2012 and that trend has continued this year, Jens Meier, chief executive officer at the Hamburg Port Authority, said at the same conference.

Big ships have short time slots to dock and leave the harbor because of the delay to dredging and terminal operators such as Hamburger Hafen & Logistik AG and Eurogate need extra staff and equipment to deal with peak traffic.

Seaborne Cargo

In the full year, container volume is set to rise 3 percent to 9.1 million TEU, while total seaborne cargo throughput will probably rise 4 percent to 136 million metric tons, Mattern said. First-half total volume, which also includes bulk cargo, increased 3.5 percent to 68.1 million tons, according to Port of Hamburg Marketing.

HHLA, which handles about 80 percent of containers in Hamburg, raised its 2013 volume forecast this week after Baltic Sea traffic increased.

Asia was Hamburg’s biggest trading partner in the first half, accounting for 52 percent of all the containers handled at Germany’s biggest port. Europe was second with a 33 percent share followed by North America, with 6 percent.

Exports have rebounded in Germany and China in recent months, adding to signs that the global economy is recovering amid record-low interest rates in Europe and the U.S.

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