Interview with Inke Onnen-Lübben, Managing Director of Seaports of Niedersachsen
Ms Onnen-Lübben, how do you view current developments at the seaports in the state of Lower Saxony?
Developments at the seaports in Lower Saxony are basically very positive. We were able to significantly expand important business areas in terms of generating added value,such as handling vehicles or wind energy components for the onshore and offshore sectors in the first half of 2014. And that was not all: we also achieved excellent results in the agricultural goods sector. As a port group, we recorded a slight loss of 2 percent in handling marine cargo during the first half of 2014, but this was largely due to a shortfall in bulk commodity volumes, primarily crude oil. These kinds of commodities are subject to economic fluctuation. Companies only deliver the amount of crude oil that the associated refineries will accept for their production work. In addition, more efficient combustion engines and optimised heating systems have reduced the overall sales potential in Europe. However, crude oil operations will continue to remain at high levels, as the modern refineries in Europe are very efficient and will therefore remain successful in the market. Still, any shortfall in the handling of bulk commoditiesis very noticeable as our statistics are presented in tonnes.In contrast, the figures for handling “light” wind energy components or vehicles, which account for much of our work, unfortunately only have a marginal effect on the statistics recorded in tonnes. However, when all is said and done, this is the standard used for the comparison with other seaports.
We have an optimistic outlook on the second half of the year. The handling companies at our ports are talking about an increase in demand from customers and a satisfactory volume of orders.
In terms of cargo types, where do you see the greatest growth potential?
I think the offshore sector, for example, will continue to provide good prospects in the medium term. The new Renewable Energies Act envisages the expansion of offshore wind power to 6.5 GW by 2020 – and about half of this figure, 3 GW, needs to be in place by the end of 2015. According to the WAB, the Wind Energy Agency in Germany, offshore windfarms generating around 3,300 megawatts of power are presently either under construction, completed or already connected to the national grid. That means there is still a shortfall of roughly 3 GW,which needs to be installed by 2020. We assume that the new Renewable Energies Act will re-establish planning certainty and therefore more offshore projects will be introduced. Our offshore ports in Lower Saxony are perfectly suited and ready to serve them, because wealready have the required heavy load infrastructure at our disposal and superstructure and also have gained valuable experience through previous projects, thus enhancingour level of skills by the lessons learned. However, we need to remember that the logistics arepractically the final part of any project. If the new Renewable Energies Act issoon to initiate more offshore projects again, companies first need to clarify financial issues and start production before these projects reach the logistics sector and our ports at a later stage.
The onshore wind power sector, which is very different from the business involved in offshore logistics, remains important as well. The production of onshore wind turbines is now a mass production business and manufacturing companies have continued to optimise their processes during the past few years. The handling companies at our ports in Lower Saxony have correspondingly aligned their logistic processes. The prospects for further increases in volumes in the onshore sector are very positive at all our ports.
In addition, we continue to expect further growth potential in the automobile sector, as well as for break bulk freight like forest products or iron and steel.The same goes for the field of bulk commodities – particularly agricultural goods. I’m also convinced that we’ll be able to record significant increases in handling figures for containers in a few years’ time.
Which major events are still pending in your diary in Germany and abroad this year?
We’re preparing the 24thLower Saxony Ports Day in Papenburg at the moment, which willtake place on 10 September. This sector meeting regularly provides a platform for intense discussions on developments, opportunities and challenges for the seaports in Lower Saxony.
We’ll be presenting the facilities and services at our seaports for the wind energy sector at the WindEnergy fair in Hamburg with a joint seaports trade fair booth on 23 – 26 September. Many company representatives from the port sector in Lower Saxony will use our booth in hall B5 (booth number B5.118) to continue promoting the process of dialogue with the sector. For this event we’re once again teaming up with our colleagues from Niedersachsen. We’ll then be able to explain the existing port structures, our comprehensive experience and the huge potential of the ports in Lower Saxony for the wind energy sector to thehopefully many visitors who visitour booth.
We’ll then use the Breakbulk Americas trade fair in Houston, USA, which takes place between 30 September and 2 October, to present the facilities of the seaports in Lower Saxony. Under the common “German Ports” umbrella brand, we will present our services together with the ports of Bremen/Bremerhaven and Hamburg. Once again, we’re hoping for excellent discussions with shipping companies, freight forwarders and shippers from the break bulk sector – after all, our seaports in Lower Saxony offer outstanding facilities for handling and storing their goods.