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Hamburg knuckles down in uncertain times

Unlike some of its European neighbours, Germany remains a shipowning powerhouse

Food for thought aplenty at the annual Eisbein celebrations and in German shipowners’ boardrooms amid numerous industry challenges ahead. But the illustrious shipping nation is well versed in adversity

THE great and the good of the German maritime community and beyond descended on Hamburg this week for the annual Eisbein dinner.

Festivities close on Friday evening with the traditional gorging on pork knuckle (Eisbein), pease pudding and sauerkraut as nearly 3,000 attendees chew the fat, literally and figuratively.

However, there is plenty of food for thought beyond the sprawling tables of Hamburg’s Messe complex. German shipping is in a state of flux as shipowners grapple with an array of challenges that continue to perplex the industry.

Regulation, be it the Carbon Intensity Indicator or the EU Emissions Trading System, the future fuels enigma or an earnings squeeze for Germany’s still-significant container and multipurpose cargo fleets, will be difficult to stomach.

Unlike attendees after tonight’s dinner, the German shipping industry has lost considerable weight since the global financial crisis put paid to its once flourishing KG system, prompting a drastic drop in Germany-owned tonnage and an end to its golden years.

Famous names in the liner sector have been swallowed up by overseas rivals while many non-operating owners shut up shop post-2008.

Those that remain have survived numerous downturns before in a show of resilience, technical competence and nimble management.

Such traits have ensured German shipping, despite its tumultuous recent past, remains relevant today — something that cannot be said for several of its European neighbours whose fleets were decimated as global trade shifted eastwards.

German shipowners, unlike some of their continental counterparts, have not rested on their trotters. Instead they have proved they can adapt. Countless shipowners once known solely for their containership fleets have diversified into more niche sectors such as chemical tankers, gas and vehicle carriers. This cut their exposure to market troughs and ensured they can bring home the bacon when other sectors start to sizzle.

So while German shipping, like the wider industry, continues to grapple with the uncertainty of future fuels, markets, regulations and costs, it appears to be taking it all in its stride.

No stranger to adversity, German shipping has seen it all. This may be why the mood in Hamburg this week isn’t quite as sombre as one might expect, despite the threat of future challenges, hangovers and even worse container freight rates come Saturday morning.

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