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Business

Europe's Most Modern Harbour Opens in Hamburg

Hamburg's newly extended harbour - now Europe's biggest and most modern - opened officially on Friday.

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How fast? Hamburg's new harbour means speedy unloading

They visited The Thames Estuary in London, Rotterdam and even went as far as Singapore looking for inspiration on how to expand Hamburg's commercial port.

The result - at a cost of 450 million euro and 13 years in the making - is Hamburg's new "Altenwerder Terminal", which was officially opened today in the presence of Hamburg's mayor, Ole von Beust.

Built and paid for by the private Hamburg Harbour firm, HHLA and German shipping and logistics company, Hapag-Lloyd, the 200-hectare site (494 acres) on the south side of the Elbe River was also partly financed by the state of Hamburg.

Reliant on Shipping

The Northern German inland port has been an important European port since the Middle Ages. From the 12th century on, Hamburg was a central trans-shipment site for grain, cloth, furs, herrings, spices, timber and metals.

Its importance increased when the city was established as a free port in 1888. The new status enabled Hamburg to become one of the largest storage sites for coffee, cocoa, spices and carpets.

Today, Hamburg's economy relies heavily on shipping commerce and plans to enlarge the existing harbour were first discussed in the late 1950s, Jürgen Sorgenfrei, a spokesperson for the Hamburg Harbour Authority, told DW WORLD.

Brand spanking new

Now the plans have become a reality, and a modern one at that. The Altenwerder Terminal features the latest in harbour technology.

Once a ship has docked, one of the 13 newly-built automated cranes will load and unload containers onto and off the ships at the touch of a button. Even the largest container ships will be able to unload in under a few hours.

Landside, new computer-controlled driverless diesel-fuelled trains will be waiting to deliver the offloaded containers to import and export warehouses.

Although the harbour has been in working use since late June this year, it is still not complete. At present, only two of the total four berths have been completed.

When it is finally complete, in 2005, the new harbour will be large enough to enable four of the largest container ships to dock simultaneously alongside the 1.4 kilometer-long harbour wall.

Economic boost

Hamburg expects container traffic to double over the next 10 to 15 years thanks to the new terminal, according to an economic report produced by the City of Hamburg.

But the numbers have already risen. Ouput at Hamburg's harbour has increased steadily year after year, rising 37 million tons in 1999 to over 46 million tons in 2001, according to figures published by the city.

A Contender for Rotterdam's crown?

Hamburg's new harbour may well usurp Rotterdam as Europe's busiest commercial port.

Hamburg's market share of container ship traffic has grown over recent years, increasing from 3.9 percent of total world shipping traffic to 4.3 percent in 2001.

By contrast, Rotterdam has seen a decrease in traffic over the past three years.

Container output at the Dutch port fell from 63 million tons in 1999 to just over 60 million tons in 2001, its market share fell from 6.7 percent in 1999 to 5.6 percent in 2001 according to figures published by Hamburg's harbour authority.

Modernisation at a cost

But modernisation has come at a substantial cost for the inhabitants of Altenwerder, a fishing village which once stood on the site of the new terminal.

In 1998, approximately 1,700 inhabitants of the village had to leave their homes to make way for the new construction.´

But some appear to have fallen in love with Hamburg's newest nautical structure. German culture minister, Christina Weiss, has already declared her passion for the new harbour. Writing in German travel magazine, "Merian", she called it a "man-made wonder of efficiency."