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German ports to receive security and competitiveness boost

A viable and secure port infrastructure is essential for an export nation like Germany

Posted on April 15, 2024

The port of Hamburg used to be a vibrant part of the northern German city and a magnet for tourism. Everyone could visit the port to watch the ships roll in and dockers at work.

Germany’s largest port is known as the country’s “gateway to the world.” However, this has fundamentally changed. Entire areas are now cordoned off, with visitors facing fences or closed gates.

Since September 11, 2001, when terrorists attacked the US claiming thousands of lives, shipping infrastructure has been considered security-sensitive because it too is vulnerable to terrorism.

Moreover, illicit activities such as drug smuggling, illegal import and export of weapons, and human trafficking now pose challenges not only to customs officials but to all state security actors.

Internationally, this was addressed with the introduction of the ISPS Code (International Ship and Port Facility Security Code) negotiated in 2002 under the auspices of the International Maritime Organization (IMO). The code came into effect in Europe in 2004.

The German government has now launched an initiative to replace its existing National Port Concept, valid until 2025, with a new security protocol called National Port Strategy. German Transport Minister Volker Wissing says it is meant to be a “guidebook comprising about 140 concrete measures to address the ports’ most pressing challenges.”

Hamburg has the largest seaport in Germany — any shipping disruptions would cost the country dearly

Comprehensive strategy crucial for the economy

Germany’s Transport Ministry, which is also responsible for national digitalization, said on its website that ports are “sustainable hubs of the energy transition” and important “training and employment centers” on which more than five million jobs depend. Their competitiveness must be ensured, their “digital, automated, and innovative” capabilities strengthened, and they must be equipped with “state-of-the-art transport and communication infrastructure.”

The ministry plans to establish five working groups tasked with developing “guidelines and concrete measures.”

Duisport — the operator of Germany’s largest inland port in Duisburg — praises the government for devising a new port security plan. The company told DW that it would not only address the current challenges, but also “improve the competitiveness of German ports” which was more often than not “hampered by excessive bureaucratic hurdles that stifle growth.”

Daniel Hosseus, managing director of the Central Association of German Seaport Operators (ZDS), echoed this sentiment telling DW in a statement that the planned measures are “largely sensible and align with our own proposals.”

For Duisport the strategy would for the first time acknowledge the vital role of Germany’s inland ports for the country’s industrial supply chains.

Duisburg’s strategic location at the western terminus of China’s New Silk Road, they said, would underscore its importance as a gateway to European markets. This positioning further highlights the interconnectedness of global trade and the pivotal role ports play in facilitating international commerce.

A picture of the opening ceremony of the Silk Road railway link between China and Germany in 2017 with politicians from the two countries present

Balancing security and efficiency

While security remains a top priority, industry stakeholders emphasize the need to avoid excessive bureaucracy.

Companies already invest “significantly in security measures,” said Hosseus, and cautioned against creating unnecessary barriers that could impede operational efficiency. “We should avoid creating a false sense of security with excessive bureaucracy.”

Even before the port strategy is finalized, the ZDS official sees a major shortcoming in the new strategy: funding.

“The government currently only provides €38 million ($41 million) for the maintenance and expansion of all German ports — only 38 million,” Hosseus said. He called on Berlin to “become more involved” in funding the planned measures.

Duisport also laments the government’s apparent unwillingness to fund its own security strategy for the ports. Strengthening port security would be in the interest of Germany as a global player in international commerce, which would be the “ultimate goal of the port strategy.”


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