The jewel in Germany’s port crown is set for dramatic change with news this morning that the Apontes, the richest family in Switzerland, have moved to take over Hamburger Hafen und Logistik (HHLA).
The Aponte family-controlled Mediterranean Shipping Co, owners of the world’s largest containerline, has tabled a bid to take over HHLA, including all its overseas facilities.
HHLA is Hamburg’s top port operator with the news filtering in today one day ahead of Germany’s annual maritime conference convened by the federal government and with one proud Hamburger, Klaus-Michael Kuhne, also letting it be known he is keen to take over HHLA.
The MSC bid will need to be approved at a state level with the executive board of HHLA stating today it will review and evaluate the offer. Publicly listed HHLA is majority owned by the city-state of Hamburg.
According to analysts at Alphaliner, the MSC offer concerns all of HHLA, including its rail logistics affiliates, its Hamburg terminals, and all container terminal assets outside Germany at Tallinn-Muuga, Odesa and Trieste. The bid has been tabled by MSC, and not its ports arm, Terminal Investment Limited.
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“The transaction could mark a turning point for the Port of Hamburg, where volumes had stagnated for more than a decade and where federal support for the maritime and industrial sector has been lukewarm at best in recent years,” Alphaliner stated.
Container throughput at the port of Hamburg, Germany’s top port city, fell 11.7% to 3.8m teu in the first half of 2023. It risks sliding out of the top 20 boxport rankings this year.
Alphaliner understands that MSC has signed an agreement under which it has agreed to move an additional 1m teu annually though the HHLA terminals at Hamburg. The Swiss-Italian group will also relocate its German liner shipping head office from Bremen to Hamburg and move the German center for its cruise operations from Munich to Hamburg.
Earlier this year China’s COSCO bought a 24.9% stake in HHLA’s Container Terminal Tollerort (CTT).
Aware of the potential for foreign interests to take over the port, Klaus-Michael Kühne, who controls Kuehne + Nagel as well as holding a 30% in the city’s top line, Hapag-Lloyd, has been voicing his own interest in taking control of HHLA.
“If an acquisition of HHLA is feasible, it would be possible to include Hapag-Lloyd or to leave the stake entirely to Hapag-Lloyd,” Kühne told Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung earlier this week.
In a separate interview with Hamburger Abendblatt, Kuehne indicated that he is “concerned” about HHLA, which he said is “badly run”. The tycoon revealed he has twice offered to buy the 69% shareholding owned by the city of Hamburg.
The MSC bid is expected to be a top talking point at this year’s National Maritime Conference, organised by the Federal Ministry of Economics, which will take place in Bremen this Thursday and Friday.