Why are seaports important for international trade

Sea and inland ports


The German sea and inland ports are among the best transshipment centers in the world. As a logistics service provider and growth engine, they are of outstanding importance for the entire economy. Without the services of the ports, Germany's role as one of the world's leading export nations would not be possible. Almost every branch of the economy depends on functioning ports and well-developed infrastructures. Ports are high-tech locations with attractive jobs. They are of great regional and macroeconomic importance and require highly qualified workers.

36,000 people are employed in German ports for cargo handling and port services. In addition, there are 124,000 employees in the port-dependent transport chain and 1.35 million employees for the port-dependent industry. This means that 1.5 million of the approximately 45 million people in employment in Germany are dependent on the port industry, i.e. every thirtieth person in employment in Germany. If you add the employees created by the investments, in the end there are even 1.7 million employees whose jobs are secured by the ports.

The German ports can only maintain their excellent competitive position if they continue to expand their handling capacities as required and to absorb the increasing peak loads with large container ships. The ports must further increase their competitiveness, for example by expanding and modernizing the superstructures, networking the IT systems of the actors involved in the logistics chains, and training and further education of the workforce. Automation and digital networking of vehicles and infrastructure on road, rail, waterways and air traffic will form the basis for global logistics chains. This also includes improving port logistics and developing innovative seaport technologies in order, among other things, to make German sea and inland ports more competitive, to increase the handling performance of the port terminals and to improve the digital infrastructure and port technologies for environmental and climate protection. The federal government supports the ports with the funding program for innovative port technologies (IHATEC), the planned digital test fields in the ports and other funding instruments. On the way to the clean harbor 4.0, the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI) extended the IHATEC funding program until 2025 in 2019. Around 11 million euros are available annually for research and development of innovative solutions for sea and inland ports.


The seaports are indispensable for the foreign trade-oriented German economy as well as for employment and value creation in Germany as a maritime location.

According to an estimate from 2014, the handling volumes of the 19 largest German seaports will increase from 269 million tons in 2010 to around 468 million tons in 2030. Cargo handling forecasts show a sustained growth trend averaging 2.8 percent annually for the German seaports.

The port of Hamburg is the largest seaport in Germany. Around 117 million tons of goods were handled here in 2019, which is 40 percent of the total sea freight handled in Germany. In terms of container handling, the tidal port is the third largest port in Europe after Rotterdam and Antwerp. The second most successful seaport in Germany in 2019 was Bremerhaven with a cargo turnover of almost 48 million tons, followed by Wilhelmshaven with around 23 million tons of goods handled.

The three most successful ports in Germany - Hamburg, Bremerhaven and Wilhelmshaven - are located on the North Sea. The cargo handling of Germany's North Sea ports increased in 2018 and amounted to a total weight of around 250.7 million tons. The port of Bremerhaven is particularly successful in handling cars and goods for the offshore wind energy industry. Wilhelmshaven is Germany's leading port for oil imports.

In 2018, the cargo handling of all Baltic Sea ports amounted to a total weight of around 55 million tons. The largest Baltic Sea port is Rostock with a cargo handling of almost 20 million tons and 643,000 passengers on cruise ships.

The JadeWeserPort in Wilhelmshaven, which opened in 2012, is the only German deep-water port. With a 1,750 meter long quay and eight of the world's largest container cranes, the port offers ideal conditions for handling large container ships of the latest generation with a draft of up to 16.5 meters regardless of the tide.

By far the most important trading partner of the largest German seaport is China. In 2019, container throughput with China in the Port of Hamburg was 2.64 million TEU. Trade with the USA has risen sharply from 140,000 TEU to 580,000 TEU (plus 314.2 percent), which has moved up to second place. Other important trading partners are Singapore (0.4 million TEU), Russia (0.4 million TEU), Sweden (0.3 million TEU), South Korea (0.26 million TEU) and Finland (0.24 million TEU).

Further development of the national port concept

Together with the federal states, the federal government is working on the implementation of the port concept and is coordinating the relevant topics at European and international level in joint roundtables. The aim of the 2015 National Port Concept, which was further developed and adopted in 2016, is to enable the ports to cope with the economic and logistical challenges in the future as well. The aim is to improve the competitiveness of the sea and inland ports as hubs for the national and international exchange of goods. In addition, more goods are to be shifted to railways and waterways. The National Port Concept is intended to help achieve the federal government's climate and environmental goals.

Importance of ports for the expansion of offshore wind energy

Ports play a central role in the offshore wind energy value chain. For the construction of offshore wind farms, ports are the junction through which all parts of the system have to pass. Much more happens in the ports than the loading of individual parts from trucks, barges or trains onto special tugs suitable for the sea. Many plant components are produced, temporarily stored or partially assembled in the port. In addition, offshore ports are the basis for special ships that are required for the transport and assembly of the systems at sea. They are the starting point for maintenance and repair work.

Expansion of shore power in German sea and inland ports

By using fossil marine diesel engines to generate electricity while berthed, ships in ports make a significant contribution to greenhouse gas, air pollutant and noise emissions. By supplying shore power from renewable energies, considerable emission reductions can be achieved, depending on the type of ship and the length of time it is berthed.

On October 10, 2019, the Federal Minister for Economic Affairs and Energy, Peter Altmaier, signed a memorandum of understanding together with the five coastal states and the seaport cities of Kiel and Rostock, in which a package of measures to promote shore power was recorded. For example, investments and funding programs of the federal states for shore power systems in sea and inland ports are co-financed by the federal government with 176 million euros from the energy and climate fund. For seagoing ships, among other things, the EEG surcharge is to be limited to 20 percent by way of a new special equalization regulation.