The Port of Hamburg’s seaborne cargo throughput in the first quarter exceeded expectations. The upward trend here was powered by a steep increase in March, especially. Seaborne cargo handling in the first quarter advanced by 0.4 percent, and therefore better than in the same quarter of the previous year. Container handling was 1.8 percent up on the same period of 2020. After a modest start in the first two months, March brought a strong boost. Throughput of bulk cargoes was ahead by 2.7 percent.

The trend for the Port of Hamburg’s first-quarter seaborne cargo throughput was still affected by the lasting repercussions of the corona pandemic. “The month of March brought the crucial turnaround for container handling. Compared to March 2020, this was ahead by 9.4 percent. From March, we discerned a recovery in several areas of the economy, stronger consumer demand, and renewed stability in the number of liner services calling in Hamburg. With 697,000 TEU being handled on seaport-hinterland services by rail, a 5.1 percent gain, we achieved a fine result,” explains Axel Mattern, Joint CEO of Port of Hamburg Marketing.

First-quarter seaborne cargo handling in the Port of Hamburg
Port of Hamburg terminals loaded and discharged 32.1 million tons of seaborne cargoes in the first three months of this year, representing a slight – 0.4 percent – increase on the previous year. At 22.4 million tons, general cargo throughput was just slightly – 0.5 percent – lower than in I/2020. The trend on container handling in Hamburg at 2.2 million TEU – 20-ft standard containers – was also upwards, the gain on the previous year being 1.8 percent. “Import and export container throughput performance was almost identical. At 1.1 million TEU each, both categories rose by 1.8 percent. The America, Asia, Africa and Australia/Pacific container trades ensured upward throughput trends. On European sea trades, the only positive development was a gain of 3.7 percent on transhipment throughput with the Scandinavian countries. Generally, the European sea trades reported a four percent downturn in the first quarter”, says Mattern. Totalling 9.8 million tons, bulk cargo throughput was up by 2.7 percent. Within this segment, grab cargoes at 5.5 million tons performed well, achieving a 17.0 percent gain, ore imports being the main contributor. Ahead by 36.1 percent at 2.7 million tons, these accounted for a large share of the excellent figure for bulk cargoes. Down 19.1 percent at 1.7 million tons and 5.5 percent at 2.6 million tons, both suction and liquid cargoes were below the previous year’s level.

Trends differ for Hamburg’s Top Ten partners for sea-container handling
On container handling, the first three months of 2021 saw very differing trends for the Port of Hamburg’s most important trading partners. On seaward container handling with China, Hamburg’s largest trading partner by a wide margin, a 16 percent increase to 672,000 TEU was achieved. With a 0.7 percent gain to 147,000 TEU, the USA, Hamburg’s No 2, also remained on the growth path. Other Top Ten countries with a positive first-quarter trend in container handling were Sweden – up 2.6 percent, Poland – up 6.0 percent, Brazil – up 9.8 percent and Denmark – up 3.2 percent. These satisfactory first-quarter trends in seaborne container handling were sufficient to offset downturns with other countries. “Of Hamburg’s Top Ten trading partners in seaborne container transport, six were already on a growth path in the first quarter. Among the four with downturns, we witnessed stabilization and a slight recovery. In our view, the continuing repercussions of the corona pandemic on worldwide transport and trading chains will gradually grow weaker this year. In the present situation, 2021 will again bring growth for the Port of Hamburg. Our first-quarter handling figures underline the first positive signs of a recovery in the Port of Hamburg’s seaborne cargo throughput,” explains Ingo Egloff, Axel Mattern’s Executive Board colleague.

Clearance for passing box and deeper Elbe channel
Federal and Hamburg maritime authorities have also transmitted a positive signal for the Port of Hamburg with initial partial clearance at the beginning of May for the new navigation channel depths and the passing box. At the first stage, vessels can utilize around half of the total draft improvements gained. The ‘CMA CGM Jacques Saadé’ was the first containership in the Megamax Class to do this. With a length of 400 metres and a breadth of 61 metres, this LNG-powered containership is among the vessels immediately able to benefit from 90 centimetres of extra draft. This enables her to bring around 1000 more containers to Hamburg.
“Since the go-ahead for the new depths in the navigation channel a few weeks ago, higher drafts irrespective of the tide have given us considerably great freedom for manoeuvre in our traffic planning. In addition, completion of the passing box now enables ever larger vessels to pass each other simply and safely,” says Jens Meier, CEO of Hamburg Port Authority. “After the second and final stage of clearance in the second half of this year, we shall be able to fully exploit the draft improvements.” Depending on size category, vessels will then be able to exploit up to 1.9 metres of extra draft. Even now, it is already possible for vessels with a combined breadth of up to 104 metres to meet in the box. This has been widened to 385 metres along eight kilometres of the river between Wedel and Blankenese.

Strong growth for railborne container transport
In the first three months of the year 697,000 TEU were transported on the Hamburg Port Railway network. That represents a 5.1 percent increase. “We are delighted that arriving and departing railborne container transport in the Port of Hamburg is again growing, and proved able to increase steeply. Our pleasure is also undimmed by the fact that at 11.8 million tons, total railborne goods transport narrowly failed to match the previous year’s total. A downturn of 0.9 percent in liquid transport of oil was the main reason,” said Egloff. Port of Hamburg Railway daily guides over 200 freight trains of more than 5,500 railcars along its high-performance track network with a length of around 300 kilometres. With 10,798 TEU, on 24 March a fresh one-day record was set for container traffic. In Ingo Egloff’s view, the system also proved its reliability during the corona pandemic. “Yet in recent days and weeks we have discovered that even rail handling in the Port of Hamburg can lead to temporary delays on account of the large number of late arrivals by ships. Terminal companies and rail operators try to avoid clearance bottlenecks,” adds Egloff. Among other factors, for example, further progress was made with the utilization of container block trains. During the first quarter, 78.1 TEU per container block train was the third highest figure ever achieved. At 12.8 percent, the proportion of empty railcars in container traffic reached the lowest level since records started to be kept. In the Port of Hamburg’s seaport-hinterland traffic, track use was improved still further, and the rail share of the modal split for equipment deployed was increased. With a 50.7 percent share, last year rail was already the leading carrier in overland transport.

Outlook for 2021
For 2021, the Port of Hamburg’s marketing organization anticipates a generally more stable run for seaborne cargo handling. With the resumption of suspended liner services, and some new ones, and in a situation that we hope will be improving worldwide, throughput figures of 130 million tons and 8.7 million TEU should be attainable.