Port of Hamburg: Seaborne cargo throughput recovers in 2021


After the previous year’s downturn caused by the corona pandemic, in 2021 the seaborne cargo throughput trend in the Port of Hamburg was more positive than expected. This totalled 128.7 million tons, or nearly two percent more than in the first year of the corona pandemic. At 8.7 million TEU – 20-ft standard containers, container handling was up by 2.2 percent.

Rail freight transport reached a record level in 2021. Last year, the Port of Hamburg Railway handled a transport volume of 48.5 million tons, up by four percent. At 2.79 million TEU, an eight percent advance was achieved for containers. “Hamburg is impressively extending it position as the world’s largest rail port. Despite persistent challenges caused by the pandemic and disrupted transport chains, a new record figure was achieved for environment-friendly freight transport by rail,” said Ingo Egloff, Joint CEO of HHM – Port of Hamburg Marketing.

Rail growth was powered by additional container train services and growing shipments in the medium-distance segment of up to 300 kilometres. Rail’s modal-split share of container transport in Hamburg has meanwhile reached around 51.5 percent. Transfer of freight shipments to rail there has been exemplary. This frees up roads and conserves the environment. At 46.1 percent, trucking’s share is declining. For container transport to and from the Port of Hamburg, inland waterway shipping attained a share of 2.4 percent.

Rapid growth of container shipments along the New Silk Road
Supplementing sea transport, a constantly growing number of containers are being transported between China and Hamburg by rail. Hamburg is Germany’s leading point of arrival and departure for seaborne container shipments and container train services on the New Silk Road.

“Even if around 20 days are currently needed for rail transport over the 12,000 kilometres between China and Hamburg, the land route via the New Silk Road is faster than a ship by sea. For time-sensitive freight, the container train services therefore provide an attractive alternative for transport between Hamburg and China. Last year, around 160,000 TEU were shifted by rail between Hamburg and more than 25 destinations in China, an impressive 51 percent increase. Various suppliers market a total of more than 290 China train services to and from Hamburg,” explained Axel Mattern, HHM’s Joint CEO.

Seaborne cargo throughput in the Port of Hamburg in 2021
In 2021, the worldwide repercussions of the corona pandemic again affected handling and transport trends in Germanys largest universal port. Over the whole year, 128.7 million tons of seaborne cargoes were loaded or discharged at Port of Hamburg terminals, a 1.9 percent increase on the previous year. Both general cargo throughput, up by 1.3 percent at 88.9 million tons, and bulk cargo handling, 3.3 percent higher at 39.8 million tons, contributed. In the container handling segment, 2021 throughput in Hamburg totalled 8.7 million TEU and was 2.2 percent higher.

Within the bulk cargo segment, grab cargo throughput at 21.6 million tons was ahead by 11.2 percent. The main contributions there came from coal imports, up 15.9 percent at 5.5 million tons, and those of ore, 10.6 percent higher at 10.5 million tons. In the agribulk area, a total of 6.4 million tons was handled in 2021. The 14.7 percent downturn there is attributable lower throughput of grain. 2021 throughput of liquid cargoes was 1.7 percent up at 11.8 million tons. Higher exports of mineral oil products were primarily responsible for this slight advance, which formed part of the generally very steady development of this segment.

“While considering the cargo volumes handled in the port, one also needs to remember that from German production alone, goods to the value of around 116 billion euros are annually exported all over the world through the Port of Hamburg. The Port of Hamburg secures around 607,000 jobs in Germany,” said Egloff.

China, the USA and Singapore head the ranking of Hamburg’s Top Ten partner countries for container handling
Of the Port of Hamburg’s ten leading partner countries for container handling, no change occurred among the top six. The downturn in seaborne container handling with China recorded in the previous year has been halted. In 2021, a 5.5 percent advance to 2.6 million TEU was achieved. China consolidated its position as Hamburg’s leading trade partner by a wide margin. “We are delighted that with its China Germany Express (CGX), from April Hapag-Lloyd will be linking the Port of Hamburg every week with the Southern Chinese Dachan Bay terminal that forms part of the Port of Shenzhen.

This new container liner service will further expand the range of altogether 18 liner services linking Hamburg with Chinese ports and consolidate Hamburg’s position as the leading China port,” says Mattern.

Below China in the ranking of Hamburg’s trading partners in container transport come the USA – up 4.5 percent, Singapore – up 0.9 percent, Russia – down three percent, Sweden – up 7.5 percent, and Great Britain – down 9.9 percent. Port of Hamburg’s Top Ten are completed by Poland – up 20.7 percent in seventh place, South Korea – down 0.4 percent in eighth, Denmark up 4.6 percent in ninth, and Brazil up 3.2 percent in tenth place.

Completion of fairway adjustment on Lower and Outer Elbe brings advantages
Compared to the situation prior to deepening of the fairway, shipping on arrival and departure now profits from an increase in draft – depending on ship’s size – of between one metre and 1.90 metres. Irrespective of the tide, Megamax vessels with a breadth of up to 62.50 metres or a length of 400 metres, can now sail into port with a draft of up to 13.10 metres. Before the adjustment, the limit was only 11.40 metres. Depending on the tide, on leaving the limit is now 14.10 metres. Incoming, a draft of 15.40 metres is now possible. The maximum previously possible was just 13.60 metres.

“We would like to thank our customers and partners for their trust in us – the Port of Hamburg during the fairway adjustment project, which has been under way for many years. Since late January this year, we can offer maximum draughts of between 1.00 and 1.90 m – depending on ship size – in both tide-independent and tide-dependent traffic. This helps to strengthen the Port of Hamburg’s competitiveness,” says Jens Meier, CEO of the Hamburg Port Authority.

An additional advantage is the opportunity now secured for readier passing by mega-ships. Along eight kilometres near Wedel, for instance, a ‘passing box’ has been constructed. This makes it possible for vessels with a combined breadth of up to 104 metres to pass each other. The fairway between Wedel and the Stör estuary has also been widened from 300 to 320 metres. Vessels with a combined breadth of less than 92 metres can now safely pass each other there.

The Joint CEOs of Port of Hamburg Marketing, Axel Mattern and Ingo Egloff, welcome the now successfully completed fairway adjustment of the Elbe. “For shipping and our port business customers, these simplifications of access to Germany’s largest universal port also offer them the advantage of being able to route more cargo via Hamburg. Last year alone, 221 mega-containerships with slot capacities of between 18,000 and 24,000 TEU called the Port of Hamburg. That was a 16.9 percent increase, underlining the tremendous importance of the now completed fairway adjustment for rapid and secure traffic control on the Elbe.

With high-performance transport routes, smart logistics solutions and growing use of low-emission energy sources and technology, we are on the right course for sustainable growth,” said Mattern. On the land side, environment-friendly rail plays the main part in freight transport, connecting inland market regions rapidly and reliably with the port.

Prospects for 2022
“The war in Ukraine will have an impact on the throughput development of the Port of Hamburg. However, it is not yet possible to say to what extent the sanctions imposed on Russia will influence cargo handling. A realistic forecast for the current year cannot be made at this point in time because the pandemic could also continue to have an impact on global trade,” says Mattern. For 2022, the Port of Hamburg’s marketing organisation hopes for an overall stable trend in seaborne cargo handling.