German maritime sector reports cautiously optimistic outlook

The German Shipowners’ Association (Verband Deutscher Reeder – VDR) newly released figures showed that Germany remains the world’s fifth biggest shipping nation with a 4.9 per cent share of the global maritime shipping fleet (down by 0.6 percentage points year-on-year).  At the end of 2019, a total of 2,140 ships were registered in German shipping registers with a gross tonnage of 52.8 billion. 

President Alfred Hartmann said: “That’s 184 fewer ships or 4.7 million less in gross tonnage than a year earlier but still substantially more than when the global shipping boom began 20 years ago.  Nevertheless, meanwhile most shipping companies at least have a cautiously optimistic outlook for the future.”

Despite the decline in the number of vessels, it has been possible to keep the number of crew members subject to mandatory social security cover more or less stable at 8,265 employees. “This success story is also reflected in the vocational training figures,” said Hartmann. 420 sea apprentices joined in 2019 and 249 signed up onshore, thus outstrip-ping the previous year’s figures for employees on board. 

Also, in terms of total TEU, Germany is no longer the biggest nation in the container shipping sector. “The fact that China would overtake us in this respect was quite foreseeable: for one thing, the simple reason is that very much larger container ships are being built today; for another, this was to be expected in the wake of the long crisis after 2009.” 

“Unfortunately, the earnings situation varies quite substantially and is volatile on top – depending on the industry segment, the shipping areas and partly also even daily events.” Hartmann indicated, however, that the German fleet remained extremely versatile, offering high-tech products in particular thanks to the maritime expertise in their companies. 

Today, to a significant extent (over 43%), the German fleet’s vessels sail under an EU flag, in particular Portugal, Cyprus and Malta. “During times where the idea of a unified continent has come under pressure, I also assess this as a commitment to Europe,” said Hartmann. 302 ships sail under the German flag. Antigua & Barbuda as well as Liberia, both highly acknowledged, so-called “white flag” countries featuring high safety and quality standards, remain the biggest individual flag states of the German fleet.

As far as the German shipping company structure is concerned, Germany remains characterized by a large number of small to medium-sized enterprises. Some 80 per cent of German shipping companies operate fewer than ten vessels.

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