Hamburg is set to sharply increase its share of the fiercely competitive North European container market after a long-delayed plan to deepen the river Elbe’s navigation channel cleared its last hurdle.
The state of Lower-Saxony last week approved the $535 million project that will allow large containerships to carry more boxes and be less dependent on the tide when they call at Europe’s second largest container port.
The federal states of Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein had already approved the deepening of Hamburg’s 75-mile long outlet to the North Sea, stalled for years over concerns over its environmental and safety impact.
Dredging the Elbe will allow ships with a maximum draught of 14.5 meters (47.57 feet) to enter Hamburg at high tide and up to 44.29 feet, regardless of the tide. This accounts for most ships with capacities up to 10,000 20-foot equivalent units.
HHLA, Hamburg’s biggest stevedore, has warned that delays to the project threatened the port’s competitive position as ocean carriers build ever larger containerships that can only be handled fully laden by Rotterdam.
HHLA, which is estimated to lose as much as $33 million a year from draught-related shipping delays, faces tougher competition in August with the opening of a new deep sea fourth berth container terminal in the neighboring German port of Wilhelmshaven.
The new terminal, a joint venture between A.P. Moller-Maersk’s APM Terminals and Bremen-based stevedore Eurogate, will be able to handle fully laden ships up to 18,000 TEUs, to be introduced by Maersk Line in 2013.
The new terminal is offering carriers an introductory discount of 70 percent on tariffs to transfer sailings from rival ports.
Hamburg has overcome current draught restrictions to grab market share from its key rivals Rotterdam and Antwerp, which is also deepening its river access to the North Sea. The German port boosted container traffic by 14.2 percent in 2011 from a year earlier to nine million TEUs. Antwerp grew just 2.3 percent to 8.66 million TEUs and Rotterdam was up six percent at 11.9 million TEUs.
HHLA grew traffic by 21.3 percent to 7.1 million TEUs taking its share of traffic in Rotterdam, Antwerp, Hamburg and Bremen/Bremerhaven to 19.3 percent from 17.4 percent in 2010.
There are fears dredging might be delayed until the summer of 2013 to allow time for legal proceedings by environmental groups which are expected to challenge the project at the Federal administrative court in Leipzig.
Further delays could prove costly as Hamburg will face fresh competition in 2013/14 when Rotterdam brings on stream additional annual deep sea capacity of about 8.5 million TEUs.