Germany’s largest universal port contains over 75 terminals, handling over 18,000 ocean-going and inland waterway ships per year. For the Elbe and port pilots, the 65 percent increase in the number of calls by what are known as extraordinarily large vessels – German: AGFs – represents a challenge. Whereas in 2008 not quite 600 ships in this class berthed in Hamburg, meanwhile more than 1000 do so. AGFs are vessels with a length of over 330 metres and a breadth of over 45 metres. These are subject to numerous restrictions along the 120-kilometre stretch of the River Elbe between the estuary and the boundary of the Port of Hamburg, which must be exactly observed. In the view of Port Captain Jörg Pollmann, in a growing number of traffic situations requiring regulation, maximum safety can only be achieved through proactive movement control coordinated with all traffic participants. Further expansion of cooperation between those responsible for traffic control in the Federal Waterways and Shipping Administration, Hamburg Port Authority (HPA), the port and Elbe pilots, and the Hamburg Vessel Coordination Center (HVCC), should in future involve incorporation of ships and pilot stations in the German Bight in mobile data traffic. For Pollmann, owing to the increasing digitization of port traffic control, a ‘Port Traffic Center’ will ultimately ensure data flow and intelligent networking of all carriers and traffic flows, while allowing for infrastructure and logistics procedures.

In the course of next year, as part of the fairway adjustment of the Lower and Outer Elbe, widening of the fairway by 20 metres between Störbogen and Wedel will already create extra capacity for ultra-large vessels and a simplification for traffic control of traffic arriving and departing at Germany’s s largest universal port. Seven kilometres in length and 385 metres wide, once it is completed at the end of 2019, a passing box between Wedel and Wittenbergen will bring to an end the ‘one-way traffic’ for ships with a combined width of more than 90 metres. Arithmetic suggests that 2,800 ultra-large ships could then reach the Port of Hamburg – or more than twice as many as at present.

To be prepared for further developments in ship sizes, HPA and the pilots are working together with shipping companies on simulation studies, for example to research the manoeuvring capacities for 23,000-TEU containerships. In the course of these studies, calls by these ships in the Port of Hamburg will be re-created in the simulator. All those involved in traffic control, shipping companies and terminals will learn important lessons from these simulator studies. Business in the Port of Hamburg anticipates completion of the fairway adjustment in summer 2021.

Since 2015, the HVCC, or Hamburg Vessel Coordination Center, has looked after optimized passage planning for ultra-large ships in the AGF class, which along with containerships also includes bulk carriers and cruise ships. Founded by terminal operators EUROGATE and HHLA, as Nautische Terminal Koordination (NTK) the company undertakes not only the operational coordination of arrival and departure planning for mega-ships, but also – as the Feeder Logistics Centre (FLZ) – rotation planning, arrival control and stowage planning for feederships and inland waterway craft in the Port of Hamburg. Following arrival at a previous port, e.g. Southampton, via the HVCC data platform, for example, all partner shipowners receive inbound passage plans. Precise time planning enables the ship’s speed for the Elbe and arrival time at the terminal in Hamburg can be optimally determined. Reduction of vessel speed from 18 to 14 knots on the voyage section Rotterdam – Hamburg of 220 nautical miles yields a 22-ton saving in bunkers and leads to a 66-ton reduction in CO2 emissions. The data made available by the HVCC also include outbound passage plans for optimized transit from Hamburg to the next port. In 2017, HVCC served more than 3,000 vessels arriving and departing at the Port of Hamburg. Other ports, the terminals in Hamburg and the shipping companies that cooperate, are all involved.

Ingo Egloff and Axel Mattern, Joint CEOs of Port of Hamburg Marketing, welcome the willingness of all those institutions and companies involved in traffic control to further expand their mutual exchange of data and information. “It is essential that the fairway adjustment is now speedily implemented, also that for shipping and port customers rapidly noticeable simplifications in the accessibility of the Port of Hamburg are achieved,” says Mattern. The deepening by around one metre will once effected also be a great gain for the port. Containerships will in future be able to bring and take away around 1,300 TEU more cargo.

“Our customers all over the world are waiting for that,” adds fellow CEO Egloff. For these two port experts, with the long expected start on fairway adjustment a positive change in mood is apparent among the port’s customers in Germany and elsewhere. Those publicizing the Port of Hamburg are keen to carry this on into the New Year.