Because of the dispute over the deepening of the Elbe, Hamburg is demanding that the federal government convene a national port summit. According to a letter from Mayor Peter Tschentscher and Chamber of Commerce President Norbert Aust to Chancellor Wolfgang Schmidt, Economics Minister Robert Habeck and Transport Minister Volker Wissing, the future of the seaports should be discussed with the other northern German states. The letter is available from the German Press Agency. At the same time, the federal government is criticized for the major silt problems in the Elbe.
"Unfortunately, we have to point out that the functionality of the port and its seaward accessibility is currently not being acutely impaired by geopolitical systemic rivals, but by inadequate sediment management," the letter says. The background is "the decision of the Federal Waterways Administration to reduce the nautical depth of the Elbe fairway under their responsibility and a restriction by the city of Hamburg on sediment transport capacities".
The Federal Waterways and Shipping Directorate decided at the beginning of the month to limit the navigable water depth of the Elbe by one meter from December 1st to November 30th, 2023 due to the large amounts of silt. This means that there is less leeway for large ships on the way to Hamburg.
Political opposition is also suspected
Tschentscher and Aust argued that the reasons for the restriction were insufficient human and technical equipment in the waterway administration and political resistance to Hamburg's plans to dump the dredged silt near the bird protection island of Scharhörn. Scharhörn belongs to Hamburg, but is more than 100 kilometers away from the Hanseatic city in the North Sea.
On Friday, the Central Association of German Seaport Companies also sharply criticized the federal government. Entertainment and maintenance of the waterways are sovereign tasks of the federal government, said Managing Director Daniel Hosseus. "In reality, this is in no way satisfactory." It was not the deepening of the Elbe that had failed, but the sustainable and reliable maintenance of the waterway infrastructure.
Far from the target state
"The fact that Hamburg has to help the federal government to maintain the Elbe shows how neglected it has been in building up human resources over the years," Hosseus complained. The Elbe is just the most prominent example. The Kiel Canal and the Strelasund in Western Pomerania are also far from where they should be. The consequences for ports and shipping are enormous. "It's roughly as if the A1, A2 and A7 motorways were only single-lane - and that for years."
Hosseus demanded that the federal government should promote national management of the sediments with the involvement of the coastal states. "The ports are simply too important for the entire economic nation to passively watch the dispute escalate over the years."
Tschentscher and Aust wrote in the letter, which also went to the heads of government of Lower Saxony, Bremen, Schleswig-Holstein and Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, that the use of shore power in the ports and the expansion of rail connections should also be discussed at the national port summit. The federal and state governments should work together to improve the performance and competitiveness of the ports.