Protestors March Through Hamburg Opposing MSC’s Investment in HHLA
Employees of Hamburg port operator Hamburger Hafen und Logistik took to the streets of Hamburg on Tuesday to demonstrate their dissatisfaction with the planned sale of nearly half of the company to Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC). It was the latest example of the growing opposition the City of Hamburg faces in completing the proposed $1.4 billion transaction.
MSC and Hamburg announced a week ago that they have reached terms to form what they are calling a strategic partnership in which MSC would acquire 49.99 percent of HHLA. The deal was justified as a strong response to the growing pressures and need for investments to meet the emerging challenges for the port. MSC committed to expanding its container volume through the port and relocating its German operations to the city.
Political leaders were quick to question the proposed sale. The mayor of Bremen told the German broadcaster NDR he had found out about the deal from the press. He sees it as a direct challenge as MSC currently operates from Bremen. The deal he says would create further competition instead of cooperation among Germany’s ports.
The powerful trade union Ver.di organized Tuesday’s protest citing their strong opposition to the sale of public infrastructure to the company based in Switzerland. They, too, are critical of how the deal was structured and announced saying that employee representatives were not involved in the discussions and also only found out about the agreement from the media reports.
“HHLA belongs to the citizens of the city,” a representative of the union told NDR. Andre Kretschmar said city leaders and the Hamburg senate had lost the trust of the workforce. Ver.di is also critical of MSC’s operations and treatment of its employees.
The union reported that around 2,500 people participated in Tuesday’s protest march, while NDR estimated the crowd at more than 1,000 people. The march began near HHLA’s headquarters and worked its way through the streets toward MSC’s offices in Hamburg. The union’s banners read “Our port – not your casino,” while many of the individual marchers were heard chanting “No sale of city property” in the loud protest with marchers also constantly blowing whistles.
#Demo in Hamburg: „Kein Mensch im Hafen wählt #SPD”— Süheyla KAPLAN (@suheylakaplan1) September 19, 2023
Aus Protest gegen den geplanten Einstieg der weltgrößten Containerreederei MSC beim Hamburger Hafenlogistiker #HHLA sind am Dienstag in Hamburg Hunderte Menschen auf die Straße gegangen.#Verdi pic.twitter.com/mk49AtbGBI
Employees of other port companies including shipping companies Eurogate, Hochgahn and Baderland also took part in the march. The political left and opposition parties also joined in the march as well as smaller groups such as Green Youth for Hamburg. Those groups also concentrated on the employment aspects.
When the march reached the city center and neared town hall, a smaller group estimated to be around 400 broke off according to the police, and marched into the town hall market. The incident began around 6:45 p.m. with some of the marchers knocking down barricades and throwing lit firecrackers. The police reported the situation was quickly de-escalated and remained calm with no further incidents.
MSC has proposed that it will within weeks present a formal offer to regulators and expects quick approval. It would then make a formal offer for the trading class of HHLA’s stock. The city currently owns 69 percent of HHLA and would reduce its position to 51 percent after the completion of the offering. The city holds both the trading and private stock and has agreed to sell its trading stock to MSC.
There has been speculation of a possible competing bid coming from logistics company Kuehne Holding controlled by German billionaire Klaus-Michael Kuehne, who is also the largest investor in Hapag-Lloyd. Despite announcing plans as of January 2024 to start a new terminal company, Rotterdam-based Hapag-Lloyd Terminal Holding to develop, expand, and integrate its terminal portfolio, Hapag has said it would not make a bid for HHLA. Company CEO Rolf Habben Jansen however suggested that Hapag might shift more of its volume to Bremerhaven in the future. Kuehne told a reporter at the weekly newspaper Die Zeit which will be coming out tomorrow that he has had talks but is not proceeding with an offer currently.
HHLA is no stranger to public and political opposition. A proposed investment by China’s COSCO group met with broad opposition before they were able to complete earlier this year COSCO’s investment in one of the container terminals in Hamburg.