Ger­many’s only deep wa­ter port ready for gi­ant con­tainer ships

The China Post - - BUSINESS - BY ESTELLE PEARD

The first years proved a dif­fi­cult start for Ger­many’s only deep wa­ter port, Wil­helmshaven’s JadeWeser-Port con­tainer hub, in­au­gu­rated in 2012, but its op­er­a­tors are now seek­ing to make it a top ter­mi­nal for su­per­size ships.

The head of the Euro­gate con­tainer ter­mi­nal on Ger­many’s North Sea coast, Mikkel An­der­sen, smiles as he watches the busy com­ings and go­ings down on the quay from up high in his of­fice.

Among the ves­sels docked be­low is a ship with a car­ry­ing ca­pac­ity of 6,000 TEU or “twen­ty­foot equiv­a­lent unit” — the unit of mea­sure in the sec­tor.

That is still a feath­er­weight com­pared to the su­per­size ships of 15,000 TEU or more that the port was built for.

Yet de­spite al­ready rank­ing as Ger­many’s largest naval base and the largest im­port ter­mi­nal for crude oil, Wil­helmshaven — si­t­u­ated around 100 kilo­me­ters (60 miles) from Bremen — hopes the Jade- Weser- Port Con­tainer Ter­mi­nal will cat­a­pult it into the world’s premier league.

With the nearby ports of Ham­burg and Bre­mer­haven un­able to han­dle the new su­per­size ships, Wil­helmshaven is seek­ing to give Rot­ter­dam and An­twerp a run for their money, and be­come the main stop­ping point in Europe for gi­ant con­tainer ves­sels ar­riv­ing from Asia.

“The boats are get­ting ever larger, longer and higher” as ship­ping com­pa­nies seek economies of scale, says Soenke Maatsch from the In­sti­tute of Ship­ping Eco­nom­ics and Lo­gis­tics (ISL) in Bremen.

Few ports around the world are able to han­dle the new gi­ant con­tainer ships, some­times mea­sur­ing up to 400 me­ters (1,300 feet) in length, or have the nec­es­sary sea depth for them to dock.

In Ham­burg, the wind and tide can make it dif­fi­cult for the gi­ant ships to an­chor, lead­ing to de­lays that can be very ex­pen­sive for ship­ping com­pa­nies.

Wil­helmshaven’s 18- me­ter deep port al­lows the huge new ships to dock fully loaded, in­de­pen­dent of the tide at any time of night or day.

Un­ex­pected Ob­sta­cles

Un­til re­cently, how­ever, the 1- bil­lion- euro ( US$ 1.14 bil­lion) port, funded by public money from the re­gional states of Bremen and Lower Sax­ony, was de­serted.

“We’ve had a very dif­fi­cult pe­riod,” An­der­sen ad­mits.

“Be­fore it was opened, the pro­ject was more than 10 years in the plan­ning,” dur­ing the time of the 2008 fi­nan­cial cri­sis and the sub­se­quent slump in in­ter­na­tional trade, he ex­plained.

“As a re­sult of the cri­sis, busi­ness vol­umes were re­duced and ad­di­tional ca­pac­ity was un­used. That was one of the rea­sons why the port was in dif­fi­culty,” says Maatsch of ISL.

The fail­ure of a planned

tie- up be­tween three of the world’s big­gest ship­ping com­pa­nies also hurt the port, which had to wait for Dan­ish gi­ant Maersk Line, the world’s big­gest con­tainer ship group, and the Ital­ian-Swiss com­pany MSC to tie the knot in 2014 be­fore cus­tomers started to ar­rive.

With no work to do, 300 of the ter­mi­nal’s 350 em­ploy­ees were com­pelled to go on part- time hours, as well as forego part of their salary for a year in ex­change for a job guar­an­tee.

But now, “there’s a lot of work” and overtime hours are build­ing up, says An­der­sen.

Grow­ing In­ter­est

Since Fe­bru­ary, three longdis­tance ser­vices leave from Wil­helmshaven ev­ery week for ports in China, Ja­pan, the Mid­dle East or In­dia.

Smaller ships from Scan­di­navia also fre­quently dock there.

“We’re notic­ing very large in­ter­est on the part of cus­tomers these past few months,” An­der- sen says.

The port has man­aged to con­vince chem­i­cals gi­ant BASF and cof­fee and con­sumer goods re­tailer Tchibo to transit their goods via Wil­helmshaven.

An­der­sen did not pro­vide any con­crete num­bers, but said there would be “no com­par­i­son” be­tween this year’s busi­ness and the slim tak­ings of 2013 and 2014, when around 70,000 TEU were turned around.

Ac­cord­ing to ISL’s es­ti­mates, the port han­dled around 200,000 TEU of goods in the first six months of this year.

Even if no one is will­ing to pre­dict when the port will start mak­ing a profit, ISL thinks the con­tainer port will be run­ning at full ca­pac­ity — 2.7 mil­lion TEU per year — in 10 or 15 years’ time.

Down on the docks, ac­tiv­ity stays busy un­til the evening. Like ev­ery week now, one of the big­gest con­tainer ships in the world, with 18,000 TEU, is sched­uled to ar­rive from China.

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