THE Port of Hamburg announced container volumes had fallen 1.3 per cent year on year in the first nine months of 2018 to 4.1 million TEU.
The downturn in container handling in the first nine months was primarily concentrated on services to Europe, down 4.4 per cent, and North America, down 26.2 per cent.
General cargo throughput at 68.6 million tons - down 2.3 per cent and bulk cargo throughput at 32.2 million tons - down 5.6 per cent - contributed towards the overall result for Hamburg.
Bulk cargo accounted for one-third of total throughput, with 54 per cent of the downturn attributable to this segment, blamed on downturns in suction and liquid markets.
Down by 6.6 million TEU, or 2.4 per cent, container throughput in the first nine months of 2018 was slightly below the previous year's.
Around 58 per cent of the fall was caused by a drop in the number of empty boxes handled. In the 2018 first half, 830,000 TEU - empty containers - were handled, representing a 10.1 per cent fall.
For boxes loaded with general cargo, throughput volume at 5.8 million TEU was just 1.2 per cent below the previous year's level.
On the bright side, there was 4.3 per cent more railway container traffic in the first nine months of 2018 to 1.8 million TEU year on year.
A total of 1.8 million TEU were transported by rail between the port and inland intermodal terminals, beating records set in 2016.
Direct rail services between China and Hamburg not involving any sea transport also grew in 2018. Around 235 container train services are now offered weekly between Hamburg and 27 destinations in China.
"Hamburg as Germany's top China centre functions as the New Silk Road's point of arrival and departure," said Axel Mattern, joint CEO of Port of Hamburg Marketing.
"In addition to more than 110 liner services with worldwide seaports, the Hamburg logistics region offers optimal conditions for rail, truck and inland waterway distributor transport, and for clearing air freight," Mr Mattern said.
Landside seaport-hinterland traffic by rail therefore advanced especially strongly. That caused a jump in the most environment-friendly means of transport's share of the modal split from 42.5 to 44.9 per cent, said the Hamburg press release.
"The proportion of loaded containers remains stable, and we estimate that next year already, with the inauguration of four container liner services to the US east coast, it should markedly improve," said joint CEO Ingo Egloff.
The trend was particularly positive on container services with the east coast of South America, up by 25.7 per cent; North Africa, up by 22.7 per cent; Israel, up by 35.2 per cent; Turkey, up by 32.6 per cent; the west coast of North America, up by 36.9 per cent; Sweden, up by 15.8 per cent; Brazil, up by 30.4 per cent; Taiwan, up by 9.2 per cent; and Thailand, up by 123.6 per cent.
"We expect positive momentum for container throughput with the arrival in Hamburg of four new transatlantic liner services. These will provide links with ports on the US east coast and also in Mexico," said Mr Mattern.
These trends favour an increase in transshipment with the Baltic region, which is so important for Hamburg, he said, adding that this port's short link through the Kiel Canal makes it an ideal hub for transshipment to and from Baltic ports.