Like most ports around the world, the Port of Hamburg has been affected by the coronavirus downturn. In the first half of 2020, its total seaborne cargo tonnage declined by 12 percent, and it lost the same amount of business in each category – 12 percent down for breakbulk, 12 percent down for bulk cargoes and 12 percent down for container volume.
“We are naturally not pleased about this trend, but the drop in first-half throughput caused by the pandemic seriously affected all ports in Northern Europe. Owing to the weakness of the world economy and some withdrawals or considerable delays of global supply chains, as expected the effect turned out to be more severe in the second quarter than in the first three months,” said Axel Mattern, the joint CEO for Port of Hamburg Marketing. “[However,] the port remains fully operational. That is truly appreciated by our customers and also gives our workers security.”
Import volumes felt the impact the most. Imports were down 16 percent in the first half of the year, compared with a far smaller six percent decline in exports. On the import side, reduced steel production led to lower throughput of ore and coal. Liquid bulk cargoes fell by about 10 percent, but first-half agribulk throughput soared by 31 percent to 4.1 million tons, driven by high levels of grain and fertilizer exports.
At the container terminals, the trend for the first six months varied markedly. A 16 percent collapse in seaborne container throughput with China, Hamburg’s top trading partner, proved impossible to offset. Besides China, downturns in seaborne container throughput were also reported with Russia (15 percent), Sweden (13 percent), South Korea (14 percent), Denmark (3 percent), and Poland (11 percent).
“The slowing down of the Chinese economy and the resultant [blanked sailings] on liner services . . . led to lower throughput totals. With some delay, these repercussions were reflected in the first-half figures,” said Mattern. However, he added that the port is seeing signs of an initial recovery on both the import and export sides of the China trade.
“In the past two months a stabilization of vessel sailings has been achieved. With the economy in China and Europe gradually picking up, I am confident that we have meanwhile reached the lowest point of the fall in seaborne cargo throughput caused by the pandemic, and will see a first noticeable recovery and improvement in the situation by the end of the year,” said Port of Hamburg co-CEO Ingo Egloff.
Some trading partners saw volumes rise. Container trade with U.S. ports was up by two percent, Singapore by six percent, the UK by 39 percent, and Malaysia by two percent. The improvement in trade with the United States is a noteworthy development, according to the port’s managers. “This strikingly good trend is attributable to the four Transatlantic services that started operating from Hamburg at the beginning of 2019. These have developed extremely well and ensured higher throughput volumes with the USA, especially on container services,” said Mattern.
The positive change in volume with Singapore likely derived from shifting transshipment patterns in the Far East. As for the sharp rise seen in trade with the UK, the main shipments consisted of empty containers for use by German industry.
The outlook for the remainder of the year is mixed, and Port of Hamburg does not expect the numbers for 2020 to look as good as those for 2019. “Even if the export side is reporting some growth, it will be some time before we are again at pre-crisis level. And here we have entirely ignored trade wars, sanctions, and corona outbreaks in other parts of the world. On top of that comes German reluctance to consume . . . That naturally depresses imports of consumer goods such as textiles,” said Egloff.
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