What's going on in the port of Hamburg? For weeks, gangs of burglars have been trying again and again to break into the Altenwerder container terminal – or even managed to do so before they could be arrested.
The officials have caught 45 men in at least 15 operations since June 11, all of them young Dutchmen. Even though the police and customs officials are talking about investigating in all directions, they secretly voice an obvious suspicion: that drug gangs are at work in the port of Hamburg and want to get a large quantity of cocaine from one or more of the tens of thousands of containers on the terminal site , as a "bouncer" in the criminals' division of labour.
The port of Hamburg, the "gateway to the world", is also a gateway for illegal goods of all kinds and, along with the ports of Rotterdam (Netherlands) and Antwerp (Belgium), is one of the central transhipment points for drugs in Western Europe. Cocaine deliveries worth billions are regularly seized here. The prospect of a lot of money should justify the stubbornness of the burglar gangs. The "Hamburger Abendblatt" reports that among other things, bolt cutters, seals for sealing containers, GPS trackers and cell phones with power banks were found among the suspects.
The investigations against the 45 Dutchmen are (still) running for trespassing – the authorities have not yet been able to prove involvement in drug deals. With the exception of one man who is said to have been involved in two burglaries in Altenwerder, all those arrested have been released.
The effects of the game of cat and mouse in the port of Hamburg are significant. The Altenwerder container terminal works almost completely automatically - every time unauthorized persons are on the premises, operations have to be stopped there. When asked by Stern, a representative of Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG (HHLA), which operates the terminal, spoke of repeated "operational restrictions" by the intruders.
The burglars may be in a race against time. Because most of the up to 30,000 containers are only on the site for a few days before they continue their journey by truck, train or ship.
In order to prevent further actions by the gangs, the police, customs and HHLA are arming themselves at the Altenwerder container terminal. The area is around one square kilometer in size, which corresponds to around 140 soccer fields. The area is confusing. The containers are stacked up to 13 meters high in 26 rows, cranes and transport vehicles are on the move, there are parking lots for trucks, a freight station with nine tracks, storage and office buildings.
The three land sides of the security area are protected from unauthorized entry by a metal fence with barbed wire that is more than two meters high. "Caution. No entry! Danger to life!", Warning signs along the fence. "The HHLA facilities are generally guarded around the clock and there are access controls at all entrance and driveway areas," explains the HHLA spokeswoman. In view of the series of burglaries in Altenwerder, nobody wants to rely on that alone anymore. HHLA has "significantly" increased the security measures, the spokeswoman continues - but nothing more: "For security reasons, we do not comment on the measures in detail."
But some of these measures cannot be overlooked on site. In addition to additional searchlight masts, light balloons, so-called power moons, are also used on the site, which illuminate the terminal more intensely at night. And the fence, which is a good three kilometers long, will also be reinforced. Instead of conventional barbed wire, Nato wire is placed on it, which has razor-sharp blades and barbs instead of simple wire spikes. It is considered to be significantly more difficult to overcome than the standard variant and is intended to deter potential intruders. Protection should also come from the air: Special surveillance drones with thermal imaging cameras can track down unauthorized persons on the site - following the example of Rotterdam and Antwerp, where they have been used for a long time in the fight against "bugs".
The Altenwerder container terminal is being upgraded not only technically, but also in terms of personnel. According to stern information, HHLA's factory security has been significantly strengthened, and in an interview with stern, customs and police also assure that they are keeping an eye on the area - with civilian and uniformed forces. Police helicopters are on standby for this purpose and can be in the air over the port within minutes. They also have thermal imaging cameras on board.
No new burglary attempts were reported in Altenwerder over the weekend. It is not known whether this is due to the new security measures or whether the burglars simply stopped because the container they were looking for left the terminal. Just as little as the reason for the mysterious burglary series.