‘Feeder Vessels’: Unifeeder Reduces Inter-Terminal Shunts


  • The Port of Hamburg collaborated with Unifeeder to start using feeder vessels to transport containers.
  • The benefits provided by the projects would be relief to port infrastructure, reducing journeys, wait time and CO2 emissions.
  • The main objective of the scheme is to convert hamburg’s transfers from truck shunts to feeder transfer.

The port of Hamburg, in collaboration with Unifeeder, will begin using feeder vessels to transfer containers between the German port’s container hubs next month.


The Danish feeder operator collaborated with local software companies to “establish a proven framework for the integration of digital processes and customs modules for inter-berth transfers into port community systems.”

Carbon emission

“The projected benefits include providing relief to port infrastructure by reducing the number of truck journeys between terminals, shorter waiting times at the terminals, and a related decrease in CO2 emissions,” the port’s marketing division added.

It claimed that container transfers between terminals occurred on a massive scale every day and that ship-based transfers could eliminate “several thousand” inter-terminal shunts each year.

Unifeeder said “it had up to 85 terminal calls per week in Hamburg and could offer sufficient resources to transport additional containers.”

Main objective

The scheme’s ambitious goal, according to Florian Pein, Unifeeder’s area director for west and central Europe, is to convert half of Hamburg’s intra-terminal moves from truck shunts to feeder transfers.

“This includes container transfers by feeder ship between the HHLA terminals CTA, CTT, and CTB, as well as Eurogate and, in the near future, the Sud-West Terminal,” Mr Pein added.

With congestion at North Europe’s container hubs easing, feeder ships can resume multi-terminal calls that were previously impossible.

Stabilized rates

If the initiative is successful in Hamburg, it may pique the interest of the top two container ports, Rotterdam and Antwerp-Bruges, where inter-terminal shunting is also a massive operation.

Meanwhile, feeder operators will be relieved that charter rates for their fleets have finally stabilized. And feeder vessel owners are no longer insisting on one- or two-year minimum time-charter periods, and flexible three-month charters with extension options are back on the table.

Market downfall

Daily hire rates in the feeder charter market fell dramatically last month, from around $50,000 a day at the beginning of September (for a typical 1,800 teu ship) to around $20,000 at the end.

For example, Hapag-Lloyd took over the two-year-old 1,809 teu handy feeder Green Wave on 30 September for $21,500 per day for a three-month charter – just a few weeks earlier, it would have easily achieved $40,000 per day.

Because the downturn in demand has resulted in capacity being off-loaded by ocean carriers, commercial feeder operators will be able to resume their daily scanning of brokers’ open tonnage lists to meet their capacity needs, and they will no longer be afraid of being outbid by their liner customers for the same ship.

Squeezing prices

Nonetheless, while there is a welcome reduction in charter hire costs and idle time at ports, feeder operators must brace themselves for a rate squeeze from ocean carrier clients who will instruct procurement teams to cut operating costs to mitigate the impact of falling freight rates.

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Source: The Loadstar


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