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Press release

Downturn in throughput at the ports of Bremen in 2020 Published on 01 March 2021

The year 2020 was dominated by the Coronavirus pandemic, which naturally also left its mark on the ports of Bremen. Amongst other things, the lockdown of entire national economies disrupted global supply chains and even though world trade began to recover as from the summer, it was still not possible to offset the cargo losses sustained during the first six months. In 2020, the total volume of seaborne freight handled at the quays and terminals in Bremen and Bremerhaven amounted to 66.5 million tons (minus 4.2 per cent). Total throughput in 2020 breaks down into 10.4 million tons at the port facilities in Bremen City (minus 14.3 per cent) and 56.1 million tons (minus 2.1 per cent) in Bremerhaven. These losses are attributable primarily to decreasing European and above all American traffic.


Dr Claudia Schilling, Senator for Science and Ports, states, “Despite the regrettable losses in the cargo handling sector, I would nevertheless point out that even in these challenging pandemic times, the ports of Bremen remained open and fully functioning the whole time. The employees at the ports, the ships’ crews, the public authorities and the companies in the port and logistics business succeeded in upholding the supply chains for the German and European economies and I should like to express my enormous gratitude to everyone involved.”


The ports of Bremen suffered a significant downturn year-on-year in bulk cargo, with throughput of 8.6 million tons in 2020, which corresponds to a loss of 5.8 per cent. This, together with non-containerised cargo, was responsible for the losses in Bremen City. With regard to some cargo categories, the ports of Bremen are directly integrated in the production processes of the manufacturing industry. For the ports in Bremen City, this refers to bulk cargo – such as coal and ore for steel production, general cargo, metal products and semi-finished products as well as project cargo. Senator Schilling comments, “The ports in the city of Bremen itself are very closely involved with the regional economy. The difficult phase that the German steel industry is experiencing consequently has a direct effect on throughput at the ports there. The decarbonisation process will also have an adverse effect on future throughput volumes and the challenge will be to involve and integrate the ports in the transition to green energy.”


The terminal in Bremerhaven, on the other hand, is dominated by automobile and container handling. The non-containerised general cargo segment also suffered a significant downturn of 20 per cent compared with 2019, reaching a figure of just under 6.8 million tons in 2020. The effects of the lockdown in spring 2020 were particularly noticeable in automobile throughput, with only 1.7 million vehicles handled in 2020 (minus 20 per cent). Inbound seaborne freight accounted for one third of these vehicles, the other two thirds referred to outbound seaborne freight.


Container throughput, on the other hand, remained relatively stable during the pandemic at 51.1 million tons, a decrease of 1.4 per cent. In terms of standard containers, throughput volume amounted to 4.8 million TEU, a decrease of 1.8 per cent year-on-year. The reasons for this downturn were firstly the Coronavirus pandemic and secondly the surplus terminal capacities at the fiercely competitive north-range ports. Senator Schilling explains, “Especially Rotterdam, Antwerp and also several British ports have expanded their capacities enormously in recent years, thus attracting more freight volumes and customers. Container traffic is liner traffic, which is why the western ports benefit more strongly than Bremerhaven from the upswing in world trade and fully laden container vessels, as Rotterdam in particular can be accessed without any draught restrictions. The Outer Weser has still not been adjusted and this has impeded the recovery in the container segment. That is why I expect the Weser-Jade-North Sea Waterways and Shipping Authority, the party responsible for the project, to push ahead with the planning process as quickly as possible.”


Of the 4.8 million TEU total throughput, roughly 2.7 million TEU were forwarded as seaborne traffic to other destinations via Bremerhaven. German and European hinterland traffic accounted for almost 2.1 million TEU, 48.6 per cent of which were carried by truck (1 million TEU), 48.2 per cent by rail (990,000 TEU) and 3.2 per cent by barge (65,000 TEU). Senator Schilling states, “The high modal share of rail, which accounts for almost half the hinterland traffic, is particularly welcome from the environmental point of view. This is one of the highest figures in Europe. In order to consolidate and expand this share in future, it is important that we continue our systematic investments in the terminal railway and its connections to the hinterland.”


In 2020, 4717 merchant vessels called at the ports of Bremen (minus 10.5 per cent), with 1226 of these vessels calling at Bremen City and 4752 at Bremerhaven. As in the preceding years, the average vessel size continued to increase. In 2020, for example, the average gross tonnage (GT) was 33,344. The largest category referred to container vessels, with 2359 container vessels (a share of 60 per cent) and just under 120 million GT, followed by car carriers which accounted for 1091 port calls (a share of 26 per cent) and total GT of just under 53 million.


The cruise business in Bremerhaven came virtually to a complete standstill in 2020 because of the pandemic. Only 6 vessels were dispatched, compared with 115 in 2019, and 2596 passengers, compared with 246,995 passengers in 2019.

Despite the unsatisfactory figures as a whole, Senator Schilling is optimistic about the future: “The ongoing development of our port concept as resolved at the start of the year will set the course for generating new growth in future. Moreover, we will continue our comprehensive construction programme to rebuild Columbuskaje and build a new mole at the northern entrance to Fischereihafen. Other important new projects which have now been rolled out include refurbishment of parts of the container terminal and last week’s decision to plan a new building at the cruise terminal. All of these will increase the competitiveness and efficiency of the port location.”