Hamburg, Germany Closes Terminals, Turns Away Thousands Of Export Containers

Dec 23, 2020

NOTE: As we were drafting this message on Monday and Tuesday, the terminals had instituted controls to manage the flow of containers.

Now, as of today, Wednesday, December 23rd, bad weather and heavy fog caused Container Terminal Altenwerder (CTA) to stop loading vessels for 8-10 hours. Because of this delay and congestion at the terminal, they reached the unfortunate decision to stop receiving export containers until further notice, regardless of closing date. This created heavy congestion with trucks waiting outside the port to deliver containers. These hundreds of containers have now been turned away.

CTA will be closed from Christmas Eve (Dec. 24th at 11:45 CET) until Monday, Dec. 28th at 06:00 CET.


The automated container terminals in Hamburg, Germany, operate best when they are at capacities of 80-85%, but with volumes exceeding 90+%, Johannes Bartels of ProTrans Global has shared that Hamburg’s terminals have been forced to take critical measures to control overcrowding in the face of delays to both import and export cargo.

In a normal year, Hamburg is used to congestion around both Easter and Christmas holidays. These are typically due to the cascading effects of blanked sailings from Asia following Lunar New Year and then around Christmastime, prior to a flood of holiday imports and exports.

This year, because of COVID-19 and extended closures in Asia and Europe, the normal flow of imports and exports loaded and empty containers was disrupted. As China remained closed, European manufacturers were still open and loading containers for export, filling up the terminals. By the time China reopened, Europe closed, and vessels were still not sailing or were sailing very late because there were still no exports from Asia to Europe. Meanwhile, without the usual flow of loaded containers into Europe, exporters quickly ran out of empty container inventory.

All of these conditions have persisted throughout 2020. They leave us in the situation we face today, where we have been told by two carriers that they presently have no empty high cube container inventory in Hamburg.

Hamburg operates three terminals: CTA, which services Hapag Lloyd and ONE, CTB, which services Maersk and MSC, and Eurogate. Container Terminal Altenwerder (CTA) was the first to announce restrictions to reduce the amount of export containers on the terminal.

The terminal previously had placed a restriction on requiring containers to be delivered only within 48 hours of vessel loading. As of December 23rd, the terminal is refusing to accept any export containers until further notice and will be closed for the holidays from approximately noon on Christmas Eve until 6:00 AM on Monday morning, December 28th

Because of the overcrowding, the terminal’s handling systems must make additional lifts to access containers for loading on vessels. We are also seeing vessels now leaving port without all of the necessary containers loaded because another vessel is in need of the berth, a practice called “cutting and running.”

TOC and ProTrans Global are working together with our customers to do everything possible through these challenges to secure empty containers, book space, and find solutions for these loaded containers in the near term. If you have any questions or want to learn more, please do not hesitate to ask your TOC account representative.


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