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“Jobs will be lost and new ones will be created”

2022 was also a tough year for the Hamburg port logistics group HHLA.

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“Jobs will be lost and new ones will be created”

2022 was also a tough year for the Hamburg port logistics group HHLA. The war in Ukraine is threatening the lives of HHLA employees in the port city of Odessa, and the global flow of goods has come to a standstill as a result of the pandemic. In the fall, the federal government intervened in the planned participation of the Chinese state-owned shipping company Cosco in the Hamburger Terminal Tollerort. And the deepening of the Elbe has so far not brought the hoped-for results. In the interview, CEO Angela Titzrath, 56, looks at HHLA's plans and prospects.

WELT AM SONNTAG: Ms. Titzrath, the first year of the war in Ukraine is almost over. How are your employees at the HHLA terminal in Odessa and those who came to Hamburg doing?

Angela Titzrath: Our employees in Odessa experience winter cold, power outages, drone attacks and bombings. We have just sent three containers of relief supplies to Odessa, financed from our relief fund set up immediately after the start of the war. For us, this war has faces and names. 37 of our employees are currently on duty at the weapon, about 30 are on duty at the terminal. Together with partners, we operate a land bridge from our terminal in Trieste, Italy, which we use to help supply the Ukraine. Most of the more than 100 people, mainly women and children, who came to Hamburg with our support in 2022 have now found their own accommodation. Five employees from Odessa now work from here. The support staff in our company for the Ukrainian employees continues to do a great job. We will continue our help in the year ahead.

WELT AM SONNTAG: What is the situation at the terminal, which was one of the most important port facilities in Ukraine before the war?

Titzrath: The safety of our employees always comes first for us. We improvise as needed and according to the respective possibilities. We hope and believe that in 2023 ways will be found for peace in Ukraine. The port in Odessa will also play an important role in the reconstruction of the country. It is an important symbol for the city and the whole of Ukraine that the port is still functional.

WELT AM SONNTAG: Hamburg and its neighboring countries are currently improvising on the Elbschlick. In your opinion, what should a resilient and long-term solution for sediment management look like?

Titzrath: As HHLA, we are a customer of the Elbe waterway. Keeping them free of sediment is the necessary prerequisite for us to remain competitive at all. There are target depths that must be observed, as must maintenance of the fairway. The basic attitude here must be the same as, for example, with the federal motorways. What is the abrasion of tar or the wear and tear of the roadway in the case of roads corresponds to the entry of sediment or damage to the embankments of the fairway in the case of a waterway. The responsible authorities of the federal states and the federal government have to live up to their responsibility and fulfill their tasks reliably. This applies not only to the Elbe, but also to the Jade, the Ems, the Weser and other rivers. Of course, this also includes the question of where the silt will ultimately be dumped. Reliable, pragmatic solutions must be found for this. For example, the sand that makes up most of the sediment could be used as a barrier.

WELT AM SONNTAG: Are the federal and state governments doing enough to clear and maintain the waterways?

Titzrath: The sometimes very emotional and ideologically charged discussion about Cosco's minority stake in the Tollerort terminal showed how immensely important the Port of Hamburg is as a critical infrastructure for Germany as a business location. If you look at it that way, then it includes maintenance of the lower Elbe fairway and compliance with the target depths for seagoing vessels. The national port strategy, which will hopefully be available in 2023, can provide clarity.

WELT AM SONNTAG: According to the will of the federal government, the Chinese state-owned shipping company Cosco can take a 24.9 percent stake in the operation of the Tollerort terminal instead of 35 percent, as initially planned. When can you complete this venture with Cosco?

Titzrath: We are currently still waiting for the final agreement with the federal government.

WELT AM SONNTAG: Is HHLA planning further partnerships with Cosco, such as joint investments in terminals in Europe?

Titrath: No. With regard to Cosco, we are talking about a strategic partnership, which is how we describe the closest possible cooperation. We also do this in our customer relationships, for example with the shipping companies Hapag-Lloyd or Evergreen. Some time ago there were considerations as to whether our subsidiary HPC, which develops port facilities worldwide, would accept a consulting contract for a port project in China. But this project was not realized.

WELT AM SONNTAG: The media reported recently about HHLA's goal of saving 1.25 million working hours a year and thus many jobs at the Hamburg terminals. Are these new plans of your company?

Titzrath: In December 2020, the HHLA Supervisory Board approved a strategic Executive Board resolution to implement a restructuring program for our Hamburg container terminal. We communicated this publicly in February 2021. This transformation process is necessary in view of the competition between European ports and our customers' expectations in terms of costs and performance. This is not just a cost-cutting program. Among other things, we want to organize the cooperation between the container terminals Burchardkai, Altenwerder and Tollerort across the board. This makes the processes much more flexible. Investments in automation and the use of digital solutions aim to increase efficiency. The goal is to keep our container terminals competitive compared to Northern Europe. We not only invest in our systems, but also in the qualification and further training of our employees. With a higher degree of automation at the terminals, the requirements also increase and new job profiles are created.

WELT AM SONNTAG: So it's not necessarily about cutting jobs?

Titzrath: There will be jobs lost in the previous job descriptions and at the same time new jobs will be created in other job descriptions. This is a transformation process over a certain period of time. The co-determination bodies are involved in this process. We want to avoid layoffs for operational reasons. We look at the development of our terminals over a period of ten years.

WELT AM SONNTAG: How much automation do you need at the container terminals?

Titzrath: We want to achieve an average transhipment rate of 30 containers per hour at all three terminals in the Port of Hamburg. The plants currently have different levels of productivity because the terminal in Altenwerder was already much more automated when it went into operation in 2002 than Burchardkai and Tollerort. In the future, all three facilities should achieve a throughput in regular operation that is comparable to that of our direct competitor ports. As practice shows, we are already able to handle 30 containers and more per hour, but only at peak times when there is particularly high demand at the terminals. Altenwerder is a good model for the other two terminals.

WELT AM SONNTAG: The German seaports are again becoming energy ports – because of the import of liquefied natural gas LNG as a substitute for Russian natural gas from pipelines and also because of the energy transition. Is the business with “green”, regeneratively produced hydrogen, for example, also an issue for HHLA?

Titzrath: This is relevant for HHLA from various points of view: the port is also the largest contiguous industrial area in Germany. We started handling ammonia for the copper producer Aurubis at the Altenwerder terminal. We are part of a completely new supply chain. In addition, in the newly created "HHLA Hydrogen Network" we are analyzing our potential for the transport and use of hydrogen, which is to be generated primarily with the help of renewable energies in the future. This "green" hydrogen can also make a significant contribution to the decarbonization of logistics. We want to be both a transporter and a user of this energy, for example with our own hydrogen filling station or with the innovation cluster that is being created at the Tollerort terminal, where we will test the use of hydrogen to drive heavy transport vehicles with partners.

WELT AM SONNTAG: Should Hamburg cooperate with the ports on the Lower Elbe, especially with Stade and Brunsbüttel, when importing gaseous energy? So when importing LNG and also hydrogen and its derivatives such as ammonia or methanol?

Titzrath: We should do everything that makes sense for a stable energy supply for consumers and companies. Every port can contribute its skills.

WELT AM SONNTAG: HHLA took over a multi-purpose terminal in the port of Trieste in 2021. Have you already decided whether you will also build a new container terminal there?

Titzrath: It hasn't been decided yet, but we see the great strategic potential of the port of Trieste. This location and our terminal there are to become an important logistics hub between Asia and Europe. From Trieste we have very good connections to Europe by rail freight. We develop this with a perspective of ten to 15 years. Our goal is to build the most modern and sustainable container terminal on the Adriatic in Trieste.

WELT AM SONNTAG: Hamburg's new Senator for Economic Affairs, Melanie Leonhard, is also the head of the Hamburg SPD. Will this change port politics?

Titzrath: I worked in a spirit of trust with the economics senators, Frank Horch and Michael Westhagemann, and I will do the same with Ms. Leonhard. For our cooperation, it doesn't matter which party office she holds. She is a very experienced politician who knows what challenges Hamburg will face in the coming years and how important the port will be. I am also in close contact with the First Mayor Peter Tschentscher, who took a clear position in the discussion about Cosco's minority stake in the Tollerort terminal. The Hamburg Senate left no doubt that this participation is important and necessary in order to strengthen the Port of Hamburg in international competition.

WELT AM SONNTAG: Should the currently interrupted talks between HHLA and Eurogate about cooperation between the North German container terminals be resumed in 2023?

Titzrath: The year 2022 was the year of intensifying, multiple crises, and both sides needed their energy to keep a closer eye on their own company. This break was necessary for that. In principle, however, I still think these talks between HHLA and Eurogate make sense.

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