Sector Development

Given the persistently difficult conditions for container shipping in 2016, there was a surprisingly positive trend in global container throughput in 2017. According to recent estimates by Drewry, throughput increased by 6.0 % worldwide in the past year. This faster rate of throughput growth was mirrored by almost all shipping regions, albeit to different extents. In Europe, the ports in Scandinavia and the Baltic region, the Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea benefited most from the upturn. Nevertheless, volume growth at the Scandinavian and Baltic ports was less pronounced than expected as recently as October (forecast from Q3 2017: 8.4 %). Growth of 5.9 % was still slightly stronger than in the previous year, however. Although the strong upturn at the north-western European ports slowed somewhat in the course of the year, Drewry anticipates growth of approximately 4.2 % in the reporting period based on the figures currently available.

Development of Container Throughput by Region

in %





Source: Drewry Maritime Research, December 2017






Europe as a whole





North-West Europe





Scandinavia and the Baltic region





Western Mediterranean





Eastern Mediterranean and the Black Sea





The trend among the major container ports of the North Range, as well as the largest ports of the western Baltic Sea, was mixed. Hamburg recorded a slight loss in the period under review, with container throughput declining by 1.0 % to 8.8 million . Europe’s largest container port, Rotterdam, handled 13.7 million TEU, 10.9 % more than in the previous year. Container throughput in Antwerp was up 4.1 % year-on-year to 10.5 million TEU, thus bolstering the Belgian port’s position as Europe’s second-largest container port. Following a double-digit decline in 2016, throughput at Belgium’s second port, Zeebrugge, recovered to 1.5 million in the reporting period – an increase of 8.7 % on the previous year. With total throughput of 5.5 million TEU, the Bremen ports experienced slight year-on-year growth of 0.5 %. Thanks to its stronger integration into the 2M alliance route network, the JadeWeserPort in Wilhelmshaven recorded throughput of 0.6 million TEU – 15.1 % more than in the previous year. The port of Gdansk once again achieved strong growth in container throughput of 21.6 % to 0.6 million TEU.

By contrast, the volume of containers handled in Gothenburg fell by 19.3 % year-on-year to 0.6 million TEU. There was a strong increase in container throughput at Russia’s Baltic Sea ports. The total volume of containers at the ports of St. Petersburg, Ust-Luga and Kaliningrad rose by 10.7 % year-on-year in 2017.

Development of Container Throughput at Northern European Ports

in million TEU







Source: Port Authorities







10.9 %







4.1 %







- 1.0 %

Bremen ports






0.5 %







8.7 %







21.6 %







- 19.3 %







15.1 %

The market research institute AXS Alphaliner estimates that the carrying capacity of the global container ship fleet increased by 3.8 % to 21.1 million TEU in 2017 (previous year: 1.5 %). This means that transport capacity rose at a considerably slower rate than transport demand. Nevertheless, the increase in ship sizes remains unbroken. The number of ultra large vessels with a capacity of more than 10,000 TEU increased particularly strongly, with growth of 16.8 % to 453. This means that some 80 % of the ships delivered in 2017 can carry in excess of 10,000 TEU. The shipping companies MSC and CMA CGM recently ordered additional vessels with a carrying capacity of 22,000 TEU. In view of the modest ordering activities of shipping lines, shipyards around the world currently have an aggregate order backlog of 2.7 million TEU. This corresponds to 12.7 % of the total carrying capacity of the fleet in use at present.

Rail freight traffic in Germany declined over the course of the year. Compared with the previous year, transport volumes fell by 3.3 % in the first ten months of 2017. However, traffic performance – transport volume multiplied by the distance travelled – decreased by only 2.5 % in the same period. The trend in traffic was also weak. In the period from January to October 2017, 5.1 million TEU was transported by rail, corresponding to a 5.1 % decrease year-on-year.

At a European level, however, the upward trend in rail freight traffic which began in late 2016 continued in the reporting period. Transport demand for rail traffic increased substantially in the first three quarters of 2017, both in Europe as a whole and in those markets of Central and Eastern Europe of particular relevance to HHLA. Whereas transport volumes rose by 4.9 % year-on-year across Europe as a whole, growth in Central and Eastern Europe was even stronger at 9.2 %. However, trends varied considerably in the individual markets. While Poland recorded a 17.0 % rise in rail freight in the first nine months, transport volumes in the Czech Republic fell by 1.6 %. In line with rising transport volumes, traffic performance across Europe was up by 4.2 % and by as much as 9.1 % in Central and Eastern Europe.

TEU (Twenty-Foot Equivalent Unit)

A TEU is a 20-foot standard container, used as a unit for measuring container volumes. A 20-foot standard container is 6.06 metres long, 2.44 metres wide and 2.59 metres high.

TEU (Twenty-Foot Equivalent Unit)

A TEU is a 20-foot standard container, used as a unit for measuring container volumes. A 20-foot standard container is 6.06 metres long, 2.44 metres wide and 2.59 metres high.

Intermodal/Intermodal Systems

Transportation via several modes of transport (water, rail, road) combining the specific advantages of the respective carriers.