Hamburg-Le Havre Range topped 40 million TEU in 2011



Sönke Maatsch, Port Expert, & Michael Tasto, Shipping Expert, Maritime Economics and Transport, Institute of Shipping Economics and Logistics (ISL), Bremen, Germany


With six TEU millionaires on a coastline of only 500 sea miles and a seventh port to enter this league soon, the North Range is one of the busiest port regions in the world. A recent study conducted by the ISL provides new insights on the various traffic flows passing through these ports.

In 2010, the base year of the study, the six major North Range ports Rotterdam, Hamburg, Antwerp, Bremen/Bremerhaven, Zeebrugge and Le Havre handled 37.3 million TEU. This traffic includes three major types of trade:

  • Deepsea-land: traffic between extra-European origins/ destinations and the North Range ports’ hinterland
  • Shortsea-land: shortsea traffic between European countries and the North Range ports’ hinterland
  • Transhipment: containers shifted between mainline and feeder vessels.

More than half of the North Range ports traffic (19.5 million TEU in 2010) is deepsea-land traffic, for example, imports from China destined to the North Range ports’ hinterland. Transhipment traffic between mainline and feeder vessels generated 13.0 million TEU of container handlings (35 percent), while shortsea-land traffic accounted for 4.9 million TEU of the ports’ handlings.

Hinterland traffic

Overall hinterland traffic, that being deepsea-land and shortsealand, totalled 24.4 million TEU, almost as much as in 2008 (24.9 million TEU). The largest market is Germany with a share of 37.5 percent (9.2 million TEU). The total container traffic generated by the German economy is still higher since many of the goods unloaded in Dutch or Belgian distribution centres continue their journey to Germany by conventional trucks. For the Belgian distribution centres, Northern France and the Paris area are also very important markets. This explains the rather high shares of the Netherlands (20.1 percent) and Belgium (19.1 percent) in container hinterland traffic in relation to their population.

The regional distribution of container hinterland traffic changes only gradually as some regions grow more quickly than others. Shifts between ports are usually less frequent and less pronounced than for transhipment traffic. Despite the rather stable development of hinterland traffic, there was a noticeable change between 2008 and 2010: the Danish and the Polish market were increasingly served via the national ports in 2010 – either through feeder traffic or through direct calls of deepsea vessels. This shift of traffic from the hinterland of North Range ports to the regional ports was apparently favoured by low charter rates and overcapacity in the market. Some of the traffic may shift back to the North Range ports in the years to come.

The market share of German ports among the six major North Range ports’ hinterland traffic was 30.3 percent in 2010. It reached more than 90 percent for hinterland traffic to Northern and Eastern Germany, Denmark and parts of Central Europe, while it was below 50 percent for practically all regions west of the Rhine.

As regards the seaward origins and destinations, about half of the hinterland traffic (51 percent) was to or from Asia in 2010. The Americas and European shortsea trade followed with 21 and 20 percent, respectively. Africa and Oceania only played a minor role. Once again, there are marked differences between the North Range ports. In Hamburg, Asia had a share of about two thirds, while in Zeebrugge, intra-European traffic was by far the most important in 2010.

Notwithstanding a rather weak fourth quarter, the year 2011 will have marked a new record of container transports between the North Range ports and their hinterland with more than 25 million TEU. Still higher volumes are expected in 2012 – a challenge for ports, infrastructure, and freight forwarders.

Transhipment traffic

The North Range ports also serve as hub ports for large amounts of container transhipment. According to ISL estimates, 6.5 million TEU were moved between main line and feeder vessels in 2010, hence generating 13.0 million TEU quayside handlings. The volumes would have been even higher if it had not been for Maersk’s rearranged AE10 Far East service, which is now also calling in Gdansk and hence reducing the volume of boxes that need to be transhipped in the North Range ports.

The Baltic Sea/North Europe is the North Range ports’ most important feeder market, accounting for 4.7 million TEU of feeder traffic in 2010 (72 percent of the total market). This traffic was evenly distributed between Northern European countries (such as Finland, Sweden, Norway, and Denmark) and Eastern European countries (Poland, the Baltic States, and Russia). Both markets are traditionally covered mostly by the German ports. However, their combined market share dropped from 71 percent in 2008 – the last year ISL conducted a detailed analysis – to just 57 percent in 2010.

The British Isles represent the second largest feeder market at a distant 0.7 million TEU (11 percent). Most lines call at least one UK port in the south-east of Great Britain, for example Felixstowe or Southampton. The transhipment in Rotterdam, Antwerp and Le Havre focuses on smaller ports in the south-west and north of the UK and also ports in Ireland which are not regularly served by deepsea lines.


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