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Looking for the right course

Tim Power draws a flattering picture of the port of Hamburg.

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Looking for the right course

Tim Power draws a flattering picture of the port of Hamburg. "Hamburg is a strong port with excellent connections, a stable market share and a wealth of logistical experience - ready for the challenges and opportunities that the future will bring," said the top manager of the British maritime institute Drewry on Thursday at the International Port conference Symposium at the Hamburg Chamber of Commerce. Around 300 participants from the international maritime industry accepted the Chamber's invitation to the event, which is part of the series of strategic outlooks on the topic "Hamburg 2040".

The speakers – including the heads of the port administrations of Hamburg, Antwerp, Gothenburg and Tanjung Pelepas in Malaysia – largely agree on the central challenges for the internationally connected seaports. Rolf Habben Jansen, CEO of the largest German shipping company Hapag-Lloyd based in Hamburg, summarizes these topics: The ports and transhipment points for the ship fuels of the future must be environmentally friendly, closely networked digitally, highly automated, well connected to the hinterland safe environment for workers and equally competitive we are also able to cooperate among themselves.

With regard to Hamburg, however, the head of the world's fifth-largest container liner shipping company allows himself a dig: "Stable", he says, referring to the previous speaker Power, is the level of container handling in the Hanseatic city - but that has been the case since the end of the The noughties, while Hamburg's main competitors Rotterdam and Antwerp have grown significantly in terms of total and container handling: "We all know that not everything is good here."

The total and container handling of the largest German seaport have stagnated since the time of the global financial market crisis 13 years ago. It is true that Hamburg is one of the international leaders when it comes to many digital applications, and the Hanseatic city is by far the best-connected railway port in Europe. But what is missing, and this also became clear at the port conference, is the sweeping new idea for the coming decade in comparison to other large ports.

Tanjung Pelepas, for example, has developed into the fifteenth largest container port in the world in just 22 years since it was founded, reports its German manager Marco Neelsen. In tough competition with Singapore, they want to continue to grow significantly. Antwerp, Europe's second-biggest seaport after Rotterdam, is pushing ahead with its strategy to heavily expand renewable energy for its own use after merging with the port of Zeebrugge this year, says deputy chief of the port administration, Luc Arnouts. At the same time, Antwerpen-Zeebrugge wants to be a leading global hub for new marine fuels that are obtained from renewable energies, from “green” hydrogen to ammonia and methanol to synthetic natural gas. The Swedish Gothenburg, says its port boss Elvir Djanic, is working towards the goal of becoming “the largest port in Scandinavia” by 2030.

And Hamburg, ranked 20th worldwide as a container port? Is involved in all these topics, but hardly ahead of the pack. Rotterdam now has more modern container terminals than the HHLA terminal in Altenwerder and, alongside Antwerp, is one of the leading European ports in the maritime energy transition. Gdansk has developed into the most important hub for container handling in the Baltic Sea and has helped Hamburg take over a significant part of its container transit traffic to Northern and Eastern Europe. Wilhelmshaven hopes for a great future for the import not only of deep-frozen, liquefied natural gas (LNG), but above all of "green" hydrogen produced with the help of green electricity.

“The Senate wants to make the Port of Hamburg the most modern, digital and sustainable in the world. It has great potential for the energy transition and the import of green hydrogen, for digitization and new, innovative business areas," says Hamburg's Mayor Peter Tschentscher (SPD) in the Chamber of Commerce. "For this we also need a stronger commitment from the federal government, especially in accelerating planning and approval procedures, better hinterland connections via rail and inland waterway transport and in large infrastructure projects such as the Köhlbrand crossing." the completely underdeveloped inland shipping also put a strain on freight traffic in and around Hamburg.

However, Hamburg has just suffered a major setback. Tschentscher and Environment Senator Jens Kerstan (Greens) had recommended the Hamburg port to the federal government as one of the possible - and possibly even as the first - location for a floating LNG import terminal. After a tough dispute within the Senate with Economics and Port Senator Michael Westhagemann (independent), it turned out that the intended berth for such a converted LNG tanker at the decommissioned Moorburg coal-fired power plant is not suitable. For the time being, Hamburg will not get a floating LNG terminal - and whether it will at all is in question. Such plants should help to replace Russian natural gas with imports from other countries.

Westhagemann had doubted the suitability of the Port of Hamburg for LNG handling from the start. Above all, the Senator for Economic Affairs is also considered to be the driving force behind developing Hamburg into a future "energy port" for the import, storage and further processing of green hydrogen. New industrial and manufacturing companies could then also be located in and around the port around the topic of hydrogen. The Chamber of Commerce also sees it this way: "Ports must become a much stronger driver of the energy transition and the further development of industry than before," says its President Norbert Aust. "The Port of Hamburg has the huge potential to become a center for green energy and sustainable value creation - the new port development plan must provide decisive impetus for this more than ever."

However, the port development plan must also provide information on how the safety requirements of future hydrogen tankers and their infrastructure can be combined with other port handling. At the end of the year, a first version of this extensive work should be available for debate in the Hamburg Parliament. For years, the port industry and the Senate have been debating the basis of this plan behind the scenes. The citizens of Hamburg were also involved digitally in the formation of opinions. "The announcements made by Economics Senator Westhagemann about the new port plan were mere speech bubbles, empty shells without any vision," criticizes Götz Wiese, economic policy spokesman for the CDU opposition in the citizenship. “One has to fear that the new port plan will become a mere hydrogen plan. The areas of cargo, logistics, goods processing, maritime industry, infrastructure and international cooperation urgently need to be reworked.”

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