“Mergers between shipping companies will stop: economies of scale too small.”

Genoa - The C.E.O. of Hapag-Lloyd, Rolf Habben Jansen was in Genoa for the opening of the company’s Southern European headquarters: “The market? It will improve in 2020.”

di Alberto Ghiara

Genoa - Participating in the opening ceremony for the new Southern European headquarters of Hapag Lloyd, based in Genoa, the C.E.O. of the German company, Rolf Habben Jansen, also spoke about the prospects for the international container market and relations with major terminal operators. “For us,” Jansen said, “Southern Europe is an important market and we believe that it is important to be closer to our clients. That’s why we decided to have a greater presence in Genoa. We will have more than 300 people covering the market in Italy and acting as agents in the Mediterranean. To do this we have renovated our local office. The number of jobs in Genoa will increase. In the first phase we have created between 15 and 16 new posts, and we shall see what happens in the future.”

What is your 2023 strategy?

“It’s focused on quality and being close to our clients. In addition to this, we will continue to be active on the major routes throughout the world. And of course we, like many others, want to continue to generate profits.”

Will container traffic in the Mediterranean grow more than in other regions?

“The Mediterranean will continue to grow for the next three to five years. Our traffic will grow because of the mergers made in previous years (editor’s note: with Chile’s CSAV, and particularly important for the Mediterranean, with the Emirati company UASC). We believe that having the new headquarters in Genoa is the right decision in order to focus on this market.”

Do you expect more mergers of shipping companies in the near future?

“No, I don’t expect that. If I look at what has happened in the last five years, there have been many mergers. Now there are five to seven large companies in the world - there is no point in being any larger. We have estimated that further mergers would yield savings of 2%, which is not comparable to the savings achieved in previous years. It is better to concentrate on providing a better, more efficient service, because this will save well over 2 percent.”

What do you think of the new ports to the south of the European region, such as those in North Africa, the Middle East and Turkey?

“We always pay close attention to these developments. We will always have a presence where there is room for us. Our ships currently call at Tangier, Piraeus, and Damietta, but also at Genoa. In the end, it depends on what the market does”.

What about the mergers on land? Genoa has one large operator, PSA, which has announced new investments.

“There is still a lot of supply on the land side. There are many operators such as Hutchison, DP World, PSA and also many joint ventures between different operators. I think it will remain a sufficient choice to cover the market. It’s a good sign that people are continuing to invest in port operations. I think that PSA’s investment in Genoa is a good sign - it’s very positive. We hope to be able to make the most of this investment”.

There are challenges facing the shipping industry in the short term: the cost of limiting sulphur emissions starting in 2020, the forthcoming E.U. decision on the exemption from antitrust rules for shipping, the U.S.-China trade war: do you think these issues will affect the growth of traffic?

“Our industry will never be easy. It’s stimulating from a certain point of view. If you look at the three things mentioned, I think it’s a good thing that there are rules for the environment, because they make the world a better place. There will be a higher cost, but I think it will be absorbed. We see from our clients’ reactions that they are prepared to pay for this, because everyone understands that it is necessary. The second issue is the decision on the block exemption from the European Union. I do not know what the decision will be, but whatever it is, it will not mean that carriers will not be able to cooperate. We hope that the exemption will be extended, but we do not think that this will change our industry. With regard to tariffs, we think that trade wars are absolutely not a good thing, because no one wins. On the other hand, we have also seen that there have already been tensions between some countries and that the impact on global trade has been limited. Unfortunately the most significant effect has been that people are starting to think negatively. If you look at consumption, it’s still good. Many people are worried about any sort of political tension, and it is logical, there may be a slowdown in traffic in the coming quarters, but we think that 2020 will be good enough, especially starting in the third quarter”.

Unlike other companies, Hapag Lloyd said it does not intend to operate port terminals directly. Can you confirm this decision?

“We are not changing our position on this.”

Why is that?

“Because we are not a terminal operator. We may own a small stake in a terminal in one port or another, but we are not a terminal operator. We work with many terminal operators, such as PSA or DP World. We appreciate the relationships we have with them and we work with them in many places around the world, and this works out well for us. We have no intention of becoming a port operator.”