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The growth rate last year once again exceeded the industry average, but the cost burden for liner carriers is causing concern, management said, which is why Hamburg Süd recently announced changes to its successful Trident service.
“Trident is the top-quality product on the market,” said board member Klaus Meves.
The service, which connects Europe and the US with Australia and New Zealand, has recorded a strong surge in transport volumes and the frequency was strengthened in early 2007.
However, due to tough competition, freight rates could not have been raised to a level sufficient to compensate for the increase in bunker costs, Mr Meves said. “It was no longer possible to operate the service as it was.”
This is the reason behind the recent announcement that the company will co-operate with Maersk Line, with both carriers taking six of their 12 vessels out of service from May.
Board member Joachim Konrad added that he foresees a correction in some trades for the current year, with some carriers withdrawing from services, such as the US to the east coast of South America. “That is because they are making losses on these routes,” he said.
High bunker costs and other cost increases are putting pressure on liner companies. Raising freight rates by $200 to $250 per teu, in addition to bunker and exchange rate surcharges, will be adequate, Mr Meves said.
He would not comment on whether the pressure and the trend towards industry consolidation will see Hamburg Süd entering into more co-operation agreements with other carriers.
Another issue the board avoided commenting on was any upcoming changes to Hapag-Lloyd’s ownership, which will either be sold or listed. “We don’t have anyone here looking at this subject,” Mr Meves said when asked about a possible interest in buying the Hamburg-based competitor.
This would be an issue to discuss with the Hamburg Süd owners, the Oetker family. “Personally, I feel it is a shame that this traditional carrier has got talked about so extensively. That is not good for anyone,” Mr Meves said.
The Hamburg Süd group recorded turnover of €3.6bn ($5.6bn) last year, up from €3.2bn.
Of the total, €3bn is attributable to the liner shipping activities. Profits were “rather satisfying”, Mr Meves said, without giving figures.
The group now operates 115 containerships, of which 30 are owned. In addition, there were 62 chartered-in vessels for the group’s tramp shipping activities.
The North-South carrier said that infrastructure bottlenecks in South America were a major problem last year and are likely to persist for some time.