Hamburg is Germany’s main port and ranked in 2020 as the 18th largest container port in the world, handling 8.5 million TEUs. It possesses an extensive network of hinterland accessibility into Central and Eastern Europe. The terminals are accessible through navigating the river Elbe over a 116 kilometers stretch from the North Sea. This bottleneck represents a risk for port accessibility and operations, particularly as ships are getting larger. Some of the largest containerships are unable to call Hamburg with a full load of containers, particularly on the return trip as Hamburg is a major export port.
On February 3, 2016, the CSCL Indian Ocean, a 19,100 TEU container ship, ran aground because of a defective rudder. It took one week and 12 tugboats to free the ship. During the incident, the navigation channel remained open but faced restrictions. If the navigation channel would have been closed, the consequences for the port of Hamburg would have been significant. Still, the port has faced limitations in its growth prospects that are associated with the length and the restrictions of its access channel.
A core mitigation issue remains the dredging of the Elbe river by one additional meter to allow the navigation of large containerships unrestricted by tidal windows as well as the dredging of a by-passing channel. This project began in 2019 and was completed in 2021. Several segments of the navigation channel were brought to a draft of 14.5 meters (at high tide) and a width of 320 meters, allowing larger ships to pass each other.