If you Google “history repeats itself quotes,” you’ll find many. In the maritime industry, we see time and again patterns that repeat themselves. Normally, it comes in cycles, like the exuberance we see in shipbuilding.
The history we are seeing unfold again is at Germany’s largest port, the Port of Hamburg (HPA). It was less than a year ago where we witnessed the devastating impact of the dockworker labor strikes. It created congestion at the German ports for months.
On Wednesday, Ver.di, the union representing tugboat and bridge operators among other critical public service jobs, announced a strike. Ver.di is demanding 10.5% more salary — or at least 500 euros gross (about $543) more per month — for its workers. So far, the employer side has offered a little lower than half of the union’s ask but in two steps.
Germany represents Europe’s largest economy — and inflation is not subsiding. The wage dispute has frozen productivity.
“Due to the massive restrictions to be expected as a result of the announced warning strikes, the HPA has decided to close the Elbe [River] for vessels subject to pilotage (vessels subject to pilotage are vessels with a length of 90 [meters] or more and/or a width of 13 [meters] from today (March 22, 2023) at approximately 10 a.m. until further notice,” Sinje Pangritz, head of corporate communications for the Hamburg Port Authority said in a email to American Shipper.
According to Andreas Braun, the Europe, Middle East and Africa ocean product director of Crane Worldwide Logistics, approximately 30,000 twenty-foot equivalent units are waiting on 18 vessels trying to get into the port.
“Carriers will not deviate vessels to other ports,” said Braun. “It will just be negative for the schedule reliability. Yards will use it positively to clean up some areas and get some backlog containers out to the hinterland. This warning strike concerns not only the port workers but also hospitals, kindergartens or city cleaning — basically everything that is connected to the public service area.”
According to Sea-Intelligence, vessel reliability has slowly been improving. The lack of manufacturing orders has enabled ships to move in and out faster, but we all know snarls in port productivity have a ripple effect. And that ripple spreads out quickly from the slowdown origin to nearby ports.
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