Hamburg’s Container Traffic Drops amid Weaker Trade with China and Russia

Germany’s port of Hamburg recorded 70.8 million tons of seaborne cargo throughput in the first half of this year, just below the previous year’s results.

During the said period,  bulk cargo handling at 23.6 million tons was 12.3 percent up on the previous year. First-half container throughput reached 4.5 million TEU (20-ft standard containers), remaining 6.8 percent below the previous year’s total.

Dramatic rise in bulk cargo handling of 19 percent was attributed to the strong coal and ore imports, totalling 11.5 million tons.

On the other hand, drop in container handling was primarily attributable to weak foreign trade for the port’s two leading partners, China and Russia, for which container traffic totals via Hamburg were distinctly lower than last year’s, for China by 10.9 percent at 1.3 million TEU and for Russia by 35.9 percent at 212,000 TEU. 

“In the first half of 2015 China’s total foreign trade shrank noticeably, by 6.9 percent. The weak trend in foreign trade was especially apparent in exports from China to Europe on account of the costlier yuan. During the first six months of the years the euro was on average 19 percent lower than the yuan, making purchase of Chinese goods costlier for European importers,” explained Axel Mattern, CEO of Port of Hamburg Marketing.

On container traffic with Russia, in addition to the trade sanctions still in force, other factors such as the weak rouble, the fall in the oil price and economic recession have also caused the distinct downturn in container throughput evident in Hamburg.

“ Willingness to consume or to invest in Russia is noticeably dwindling. The IMF is assuming a 3.4 percent drop in Russian GDP this year. The fact that 32.1 percent fewer containers were handled in the first half of the year in Russia’s Baltic ports than in 2014 serves to underline this description of the current economic situation,” says Ingo Egloff, CEO of Port of Hamburg Marketing.

Both Egloff und Mattern emphasized that the weak trend in transhipment throughput with China and Russia could not be offset by the excellent development of continental services with the hinterland.

“Altogether 2.9 million TEU were transported, an increase of 2.3 percent. That set a new record for land-side container transport. Container transport by rail climbed to 1.2 million TEU. That is an advance of 6.4 percent and clearly shows that rail is capable of above-average growth in container transport,” said Mattern.

According to the port, the half-year figures show how essential it is to implement the still outstanding dredging of the navigation channel to facilitate improved handling of ultra-large vessels, so that large quantities of transhipment cargo should continue to come to Hamburg, rather than being handled in other ports in the North Range because restrictions on the Elbe limit exploitation of mega-ships’ transport capacities.

“The number of ultra-large containership calls rose again in the first half of 2015. Those with slot capacity of up to 13,999 TEU made 255 calls, or 18 percent more, and ships with over 14,000 TEU, 53 calls, or 96 percent more,” said Mattern, stressing that the failure to dredge the channel of the Lower and Outer Elbe must not become a competitive handicap for Germany’s largest port.

For 2015 the Port of Hamburg’s marketing organisation reckons with a further increase in bulk cargo handling and a slight overall downturn in container throughput. By the end of the year, seaborne cargo throughput of 141 million tons, including 9 million TEU, is possible.