Hamburg-headquartered shipping line, Hapag-Lloyd, shows how it works when politics go round in circles. According to an announcement aired last Tuesday (28SEP21), the company acquired a 30% stake in the JadeWeser Port of Wilhelmshaven. As consequence of this step, pressure is put on the leading German stevedoring companies, HHLA (Hamburg), and Eurogate (Bremen / Bremerhaven / Wilhelmshaven), to join forces. Driven by jealousies, the governments of the three northern German states of Hamburg, Bremen, and Lower Saxony, have resisted a close cooperation of the country’s major seaports for years.
In addition to the 30% stake taken in Container Terminal Wilhelmshaven (CTW), Hapag-Lloyd also acquired a 50% stake in Rail Terminal Wilhelmshaven (RTW). Terminal operator, Eurogate, will
continue to hold the remaining 50%. The parties have agreed not to disclose financial details since approval from the EU antitrust authority is still pending. As a result of the deal, Hapag-Lloyd
will shift cargo volumes to Wilhelmshaven, to the detriment of both Rotterdam and Hamburg.
Seller of CTW is Danish transport and logistics giant, A.P. Moller-Maersk, that acquired 30% in CTW back in 2008, in expectation of fast-rising volumes. This was a misconception, as the growth of steel boxes handled there has since then only developed at a snail's pace (423,000 TEU in 2020). Not very impressive, given the 2.7 million containers that the terminal is structurally designed to accommodate and manage each year.
The redistribution of maritime traffic is not yet clear
From Hapag-Lloyd's point of view, there are several motives for the Wilhelmshaven deal. The company just ordered 12 mammoth container ships in South Korea, each capable of transporting 23,500 TEU. Due to the vessels’ large draught, they cannot reach their future home port of Hamburg fully loaded, despite the recent dredging of the Elbe River. And this is where Wilhelmshaven comes in. The JadeWeser Port is the only German harbor with a draught of 18 meters, allowing the largest ships to conduct tide-independent arrivals and departures.
H-L CEO, Rolf Habben Jansen, a Dutch national himself, said in a video call last Thursday (30SEP21), that his company’s Wilhelmshaven decision will strengthen the German ports altogether. Some volumes handled at Rotterdam or Antwerp so far, will be redirected and loaded or unloaded at one of the German harbors, he stated.
He added to this that Hapag-Lloyd intends to invest in more freight terminals. About half of the key 12 to 15 global gateways Hapag-Lloyd constantly serves, are being put under the microscope to examine the benefits of a potential equity participation in each potential freight terminal. First candidate seems to be a port located on the Egyptian Mediterranean coast.
Unified stevedoring company expected to come next
Hapag-Lloyd's Wilhelmshaven commitment will also impact current merger talks between Germany's largest stevedoring companies, Hamburg's HHLA, and Bremen-based Eurogate. Bundling forces to create a joint German provider of maritime handling services, is fully in line with Hapag-Lloyd stakeholder, Kühne Holding AG (30%). This would up the quality of handling services and reduce unit costs, stated Kuehne+Nagel owner, Klaus-Michael Kühne (CargoForwarder Global, 09SEP21). To speed things up, Mr. Kühne proposed that Kühne Holding AG become a shareholder in a future, unified, maritime handling company on the German west coast.
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