Economy: Germany’s seaports and why they are so important

Economy: Germany’s seaports and why they are so important

60 percent of foreign trade passes through German seaports. The coastal states therefore believe that the federal government needs to be significantly more involved in the national port task.

Most of Germany’s foreign trade goes through the seaports of the North and Baltic Seas as well as through Hamburg, the country’s largest port. Although it affects all of Germany, responsibility for the very expensive infrastructure lies solely with the states. They find that unfair. The federal government now wants to decide on its national port strategy. Will this make things better? The current state:

Why are German ports so important for the country?

Without the German ports, on the one hand, the export-oriented economy would collapse to a large extent, and on the other hand, the population would have to go without numerous essential goods, or at least pay significantly more. Germany handles around 60 percent of its imports and exports by sea. Last year, according to the Federal Statistical Office, this amounted to around 267.8 million tonnes of goods, including energy, food, clothing, technology and medicine. Compared to 2022, German foreign trade fell last year due to the difficult geopolitical situation and the weak dynamics of world trade – by 2.0 percent for exports and by 10.1 percent for imports, as the statisticians found.

What are the most important ports in Germany?

By far the largest and most important port in the country is in Hamburg. According to statisticians, 99.6 million tons of goods were handled there last year, as much as all other relevant seaports in Germany combined. This was followed by Bremerhaven with 39.2 million tons, Wilhelmshaven in Lower Saxony with 29.8 million tons and Rostock in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania with 23.9 million tons.

How do German ports compare to other European countries?

It’s going ok. By far the largest ports in the so-called Northern Range – it refers to the most important continental European ports on the North Sea, through which around 80 percent of European imports and exports are processed – are Rotterdam in the Netherlands and Antwerp-Bruges in Belgium. They also had to accept a decline of 6.1 or 5.5 percent in sea freight throughput compared to 2022, but are well ahead of Hamburg as number three. This can also be clearly seen in container handling: While 7.7 million standard containers (TEU) passed over the quay edges in Hamburg last year – the worst value since 2009 – there were 13.4 million TEU in Rotterdam and around 12 in Antwerp-Bruges. 5 million TEU.

What is the status of the German merchant fleet?

Actually quite good. According to the German Shipowners’ Association, Germany is in first place in the world for container shipping – even ahead of China. The German industry leader is the Hamburg shipping company Hapag-Lloyd. With 266 container ships, an annual transport volume of 11.9 million TEU and 16,300 employees, it is currently the fifth largest shipping company in the world. In front of her are MSC (Switzerland), Maersk (Denmark), CMA CGM (France) and Cosco (China). According to the shipping association, Germany’s entire merchant fleet comprised 1,800 ships last year, making Germany still the seventh largest shipping nation in the world. The first three places are occupied by Greece, China and Japan.

Where is the Problem?

Shipping companies complain primarily about high costs in German ports, the level of automation in the terminals and the speed of processing. In Hamburg, the aging Köhlbrand Bridge also hinders the accessibility of individual terminals with particularly large container freighters. In addition, individual shipping companies are changing their fleet management and their ships no longer call at ports like a string of pearls. Instead, they are increasingly heading to hubs they have defined themselves – usually ports and terminals in which they themselves have a stake – and distributing the goods from there on smaller ships. German ports do not necessarily have to be involved.

What do the German ports want?

Equipping the ports for the future and, above all, preparing them for climate neutrality is extremely expensive; for example, replacing the Hamburg Köhlbrand Bridge alone is currently estimated at around 4.5 to 5 billion euros. The port industry and the coastal states of Hamburg, Schleswig-Holstein, Lower Saxony, Bremen and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania have therefore long been calling on the federal government to significantly increase federal funding to finance seaports. The infrastructure alone costs 400 million euros per year due to increased costs. So far, the federal government has only paid 38 million euros per year for all ports combined.

What future tasks will the ports face?

The port industry points out that the ports urgently need to be expanded to accommodate the expansion of renewable energies as required by law. “In order to achieve these expansion goals, there is a lack of transshipment capacity for wind energy in Europe’s ports,” the Central Association of German Seaport Companies (ZDS) recently said. “This is particularly true in Germany, where no investment has been made in expanding the necessary heavy-duty areas for years. ” The problem particularly affects wind power at sea, as the turbines here are particularly large and heavy and often have to be pre-assembled in the ports. “Without more space in the ports, there will be no successful expansion of wind energy and no successful energy transition,” says the ZDS.

From the perspective of the wind power industry, up to 200 hectares of additional heavy-duty areas are needed in German seaports. “That corresponds to the area of ​​a parking lot with 260,000 cars or 270 football fields,” the Offshore Wind Energy Foundation has calculated. Wind energy at sea is to be expanded from the current 8.4 to 70 gigawatts of power by 2045 and thus become a backbone of the energy transition. That means thousands of new wind turbines. The foundation sees the seaports as the central hubs for expansion and operation: “Whether as base ports for the construction and later dismantling of wind farms, as service ports for operation and maintenance, as storage areas or as production sites – they have a variety of functions in the area offshore wind energy.”

What is bothering the coastal countries?

To put it bluntly, they criticize the fact that the federal government has still not understood the importance of seaports for the entire country. Hamburg’s Senator for Economic Affairs Melanie Leonhard (SPD) recently said: “The lack of attention in the public debate is far from consistent with the great importance of the German seaports.” In view of the significant importance for the German economy, for the industrial location, for value creation, jobs, security of supply and integration into global trade, she misses a greater commitment from the federal government. The port industry often points to Rotterdam and Antwerp, where the will and financial commitment to modernize the ports is significantly greater and is seen as a national task.

What is the federal government doing?

So far, the federal government has remained cautious on the question of greater financial involvement in the operation and maintenance of the ports. The Federal Ministry of Transport recently referred to the states’ responsibility for port infrastructure. At the same time, it emphasized that the federal government is in close dialogue with the states “in order to achieve viable solutions for an appropriate contribution of the federal government to the costs of the states.” The traffic light coalition’s port strategy, which the cabinet wants to decide on Wednesday, could also provide answers. According to the ministry, more than 130 measures are defined in five areas of action. The strategy was originally supposed to be available in the fall.

Source: Stern

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