May 5, 1966 is a historic date: the dawn of the era of containerized transport in Germany. 50 years ago on this date, the first dedicated container ship was unloaded at Bremen’s Überseehafen by Bremer Lagerhaus-Gesellschaft (today BLG Logistics). Since then, containerization has gone on to revolutionize global trade and transport, and also helped to enable Germany to become an export powerhouse.
The idea was as simple as it was revolutionary: cargo packed in a standardized steel box could be transferred to any transportation mode anywhere in the world. The standardization of processes accelerated the global transport chain and made globalization possible. In Germany, Bremer Lagerhaus-Gesellschaft pioneered this process. Although many players in the shipping and transport industries initially viewed the new steel box with skepticism, BLG’s management grasped the potential early on. Over time, the pioneer became one of the world’s largest shipping line-independent container terminal operators, the EUROGATE Group. EUROGATE was founded in 1999 as a joint venture of the container divisions of BLG Logistics, Bremen, and Hamburg-based EUROKAI, and is today active in eleven seaports in Germany and Europe, including Wilhelmshaven, Germany’s only deep-water port. As container cargos boomed, container handling was relocated from Bremen to Bremerhaven. Today, Bremerhaven is Europe’s fourth largest container port. Over 100 million standard containers (TEU) have been handled here to date. Under the patronage of Martin Günthner, Bremen’s Senator for Economy, Labor and Ports, BLG Logistics and EUROGATE will celebrate this historic event “50 Years of Container Handling in Germany” on May 4, 2016 at the BLG Forum, Bremen. This anniversary event is also supported by the port management company bremenports and other enterprises.
Frank Dreeke, CEO of BLG Logistics: “Although this new transport mode was received with overwhelming skepticism by virtually all of Europe’s seaports and shippers, BREMER LAGERHAUS-GESELLSCHAFT provided the decisive impetus to launch container transport in Germany. That was a courageous decision: at that time, no one could have predicted how container traffic would develop. It was a pioneering effort in the truest sense of the word. I remember when I was just six years old, holding onto my mother’s hand as we visited the handling space between sheds 16 and 18 at the Bremen Überseehafen to watch the first 100 containers be unloaded onto Bremen soil. My father worked as head of operations at BREMER LAGERHAUS-GESELLSCHAFT and made the preparations for the first container ship.”
The ISO-standard container is called a “twenty-foot equivalent unit”, or TEU, and measures 20‘ (long) x 8‘ (wide) x 8‘6“ (high). The first container to be unloaded on German soil in 1966 was somewhat longer than today’s standard container and measured 35‘ (long) x 8‘ (wide). The MS Fairland of the US shipping line Sea-Land-Service Inc. of New Jersey brought them to Bremen Überseehafen. The MS Fairland was a conventional freighter that had been converted to a container ship and could transport 226 containers. It belonged to Malcom McLean, the “Father of Containerization”, who invented this steel transport box in the US in 1956, ten years before it came to Germany.
Emanuel Schiffer, CEO of the EUROGATE Group: “The container revolutionized global trade and transport routes. Today, the large container terminals are the central hubs of merchandise flows. Then as now, we are confronting the same challenges: adaptation of the port structure to developments in ship sizes and the trend toward alliances among shippers compel us to continually seek new paths. This is what led to the formation of EUROGATE in 1999. Today, we operate terminals in Bremerhaven, Wilhelmshaven and Hamburg, as well as in Italy, Portugal, Morocco and Russia. And in Cyprus soon as well. Ports and container handling have a fundamental significance for Germany’s and Europe’s economic strength. Economic growth is only possible with smoothly functioning transport and logistics chains.”
Because of containerization, container ships are now the merchant vessels that can transport the largest cargo volumes around the world in the most environmentally-friendly and lowest-cost manner. The main shipping routes lead from Northern Europe to Asia. Whereas the first dedicated container ship in the US could load only 58 steel boxes in 1956, the largest container ship today can transport over 19,000 TEU. Shipyards are already building ships with transport capacities of up to 21,000 TEU. Transportation capacities have multiplied by 328 times in just the 60 years since the invention of the container!
Germany’s ports, and Bremerhaven in particular, have kept pace with the development in ship size over the past 50 years through continual expansion. Bremerhaven, originally a greenfield project, was successively expanded by the former BREMER LAGERHAUS-Gesellschaft, later EUROGATE, and the State of Bremen to become Europe’s fourth largest container port. Bremen’s Senate was determined to give the standardized transport container a chance. As the container numbers increased, a separate infrastructure had to be created to handle them. In February 1968, ground was broken in Bremerhaven for the construction of a 700 meter long container quay; since completion of the most recent expansion stage CT 4, it is almost five kilometers long – Europe’s longest, with plenty of space for merchant ships up to 400 meters long that link the port with the entire world.
“When the first containers were unloaded in Bremen’s Überseehafen 50 years ago, the sceptics shook their heads,” recounts Robert Howe, Technical Director of the port management company. “But the criticism soon died away. Because the container had already begun to triumph, and in doing so revolutionized the transport world.”
Horst Rehberg, Managing Director of bremenports, believes that it was the container that made globalization possible in the first place. “All of a sudden, industries no longer needed to produce close to their markets. They could relocate abroad and take advantage of low manufacturing and transport costs. At the same time, countries like Japan, South Korea and China built powerful export economies and drove the international trade boom.”
Not just Bremerhaven, but the other ports as well, profited from container growth. Since its founding, the EUROGATE Group, which operates container terminals in Hamburg and Wilhelmshaven as well as Bremerhaven, has invested a total of € 1.4 billion in Germany’s seaports. Today, EUROGATE employs 4,347 persons in Germany and 7,739 internationally.
Anniversary celebration “50 Years of Container Handling in Germany”
For the event on May 4, 2016, BLG LOGISTICS and EUROGATE have invited several hundred representatives from politics, business and civic organizations to Bremen’s BLG Forum to celebrate the success story of the container in Bremen’s ports and in Germany. “We’re actually celebrating two success stories,” notes Martin Günthner, Bremen’s Senator for Economy and Ports, with great satisfaction. “One is the history of the container, which was revolutionary 50 years ago and without which today’s logistics is inconceivable. The other is the development of Bremen’s ports, which was and remains groundbreaking.”
The guests can look forward to an entertaining evening program with a panel discussion, music and comedy with “Nagelritz” the singing seaman, along with presentation of the prize for the most attractive 50th-anniversary container. Senator Martin Günthner has invited Bremen-based enterprises to compete in this contest to artistically decorate a 20-foot container with the motto “50 years of containers in Bremen State”. It is to be presented at the big anniversary celebration, and will then be sent on tour as an actual transport container to represent Bremen in around the world. The winner can donate the € 2,000 prize to the charity of its choice. BLG and EUROGATE are also participating in this competition. The port management company bremenports is the main sponsor of this 50th anniversary event.
Aside from bremenports, other companies are also supporting this anniversary, including: CHS Container Handel, Container-Service Friedrich Tiemann & Sohn, EKB CONTAINER LOGISTIK, ELA Container, G C D Glomb Container Dienst, JOKE Event AG and Willenbrock Fördertechnik.