The port of Hamburg says it is back on the container growth trail again as a modest, but significant, 1 percent increase in 2016 traffic helped soften the blow of a near 10 percent slump in the previous year.
Europe’s third largest container hub handled 8.9 million 20-foot-equivalent units last year with the rebound from the 9.3 percent decline in 2015 driven mainly by increased shipments in the Asian and Americas markets that compensated for lower feeder traffic on Baltic Sea routes.
However, Hamburg was outperformed by second-ranked Antwerp, which boosted 2016 traffic by four percent to break through 10 million TEUs for the first time, and Rotterdam, Europe’s largest container hub, which was up 1.2 percent at 12.4 million TEUs.
Germany’s largest port is still way short of its 9.7 million TEUs traffic in 2014 when it ranked as Europe’s second largest container port, but it is “contemplating a positive trend for 2017,” said Axel Mattern, joint CEO of Port of Hamburg Marketing.
The key Asia routes that account for more than half of Hamburg’s total traffic edged up 1.3 percent to 4.7 million TEUs, including a 1.6 percent rise in Chinese volume to 2.6 million TEUs.
Volume on North and South America trades grew 2.9 percent to 1.2 million TEUs with US traffic 11.1 percent higher at 363,000 TEUs and Mexican shipments soaring 17.8 percent to 74,000 TEUs.
The port hailed a “gratifying” 4.5 percent increase in traffic with Russia, reversing previous steep declines triggered by sanctions against the Kremlin for its annexation of Crimea coupled with a deep recession in Russia following the slump in oil prices.
“Despite trade sanctions remaining in force, Russia returned to second place [from third in 2015] among the port of Hamburg’s container transport trading partners,” said Ingo Egloff, joint CEO of the Port of Hamburg Marketing.
The Baltic bucked the positive trend as direct calls by carriers at Gothenburg and Danzig saw traffic with Sweden falling 10.6 percent to 243,000 TEUs while Polish shipments were down 9.7 percent at 214,000 TEUs, which left traffic for the region unchanged from 2015.
Hamburg also strengthened its status as Europe’s top rail port last year, with the number of containers transported to and from its hinterland rising 2.2 percent to 2.4 million TEUs, or more than 42 percent of total volume.
Total throughput rose 0.3 percent to 138.2 million tons, but conventional and break-bulk traffic slumped 11 percent to 1.5 million tons.
The port got a boost earlier this month when a German federal court gave it conditional approval to deepen the river Elbe, its outlet to the North Sea, which will enable it to handle the largest fully laden container ships around the clock.
However, the port, which has been spent more than a decade seeking the go-ahead, faces a further delay as the court said it must first address environmental before work can start.
Port officials played down the impact of the court ruling. ”The essential point is that for shipping on the Elbe and operations in the port of Hamburg, nothing changes,” Egloff said.
“We have proved able until now to handle the largest container ships, and that will remain so in the future. No deterioration will therefore be occurring.”
“Following the lengthy proceedings and in light of the stark competition between the major European ports, I would have hoped for a ruling that did not result in a further delay to the dredging of the river Elbe,” said Angela Titzrath, chairwoman of HHLA, Hamburg’s leading container terminal operator.
“I can understand that many people who work in or for the port are concerned following this ruling. I would therefore like to emphasize: the port of Hamburg does not face an uncertain future.”