How the Port of Hamburg became ‘Mega-Ship Ready’



Jens Meier, CEO, Port of Hamburg Authority, Hamburg, Germany


The Port of Hamburg is one of the biggest hot-spots for the movement of goods in Germany, and Europe’s second largest container hub. In 2013, around 130 million tonnes were handled at Hamburg in seaborne foreign trade. Container throughput was the strongest segment of this, with 9.3 million TEU handled over the year. Since 2008, the number of ultra large vessels (which are at minimum 330m long and 45m wide) calling at the Port of Hamburg increased from 621 to 989. This figure includes not only container ships, but also bulk carriers and cruise ships, as well as other vessels. Therefore, each ship is subject to unique restrictions when navigating the estuary to and from Hamburg, and the different restrictions are subject to changes in water level in the river Elbe or the width of the navigation channel leading to the port. The dimensions of mega-ships call for a special nautical knowhow in the run up the Elbe towards the port, something possessed by the Elbe and Port of Hamburg pilots after extensive training. For turning and berthing within the port, Hamburg-based tugs are there twenty four hours a day to assist where and when required. Each terminal at the port has optimised each of its berths and gantry cranes for mega-ships so that the mass of containers can be handled rapidly and efficiently. The key to handling the vast amount of containers coming off a megaship is through coordinated working processes and cutting-edge IT.

Terminals tackle 18,000 TEU ships

Hamburg first took delivery of a sizeable vessel at the HHLA Container Terminal Burchardkai, which is operated by Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG, when the fully cellular American Lancer containership model was given clearance on May 31, 1968. While remaining fully operational, since 2005, this facility has been fundamentally modernised, partly automated and redeveloped in order to facilitate the new era of mega-ships. However, it is important not to stand still in this ever-evolving industry, and 2014 saw the introduction of five additional jumbo container gantry cranes which are capable of handling two 40 foot, or four 20 foot, containers simultaneously put into service. This meant the Burchardkai terminal marked an important milestone in its long-term expansion program, as it is now capable of handling ships of 18,000 TEU. Parts of the container yard were also switched to automated block storage, with HHLA Container Terminal Altenwerder as the model. By the final stage of redevelopment, Burchardkai had boosted its total capacity from 2.6 million to around 6 million annual TEU throughput. The synergy of tandem gantry cranes, a new control stand with its integrated terminal control, and storage blocks has created an atmosphere for optimal performance in handling megaships.

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