Hamburg, Germany – September 13, 2023 According to sources, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) has been signed for the Port of Hamburg, paving the way for Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) to acquire a substantial 49% stake in Hamburg’s HHLA (Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG). The deal encompasses all aspects of the HHLA group, including its rail logistics affiliations, Hamburg terminals, and container terminal assets located outside Germany in Tallinn-Muuga, Odesa, and Trieste. It is expected that existing third-party shareholdings in individual terminals will remain unaffected by this ownership change.
The transaction carries the potential to bring about a transformative shift for the Port of Hamburg, which has experienced stagnant volumes for over a decade. Federal support for the maritime and industrial sector in the region has been limited in recent years.
MSC’s offer not only includes a substantial price for the acquisition but also a bundle of commitments aimed at fostering employment growth and increasing container throughput in the Hamburg region.
HHLA, a publicly-listed company, is currently majority-owned by the city-state of Hamburg, with approximately 69% ownership, while the remaining 31% is in free float. MSC is anticipated to make an offer to acquire the non-city-owned shares at a premium over HHLA’s current stock price. In parallel, Hamburg is expected to sell approximately 18% of its stock to MSC, making the proposed new HHLA a public-private partnership with Hamburg State holding 51% and MSC-Aponte holding 49%. Under this new arrangement, the company would remain an ‘Aktiengesellschaft’ but would be delisted from the stock exchange.
Interestingly, this deal would grant Hamburg greater control over HHLA, allowing both owners to issue direct binding orders to HHLA’s management—a significant shift from the current structure. The joint venture has been established for an initial period of 40 years.
MSC has also committed to move an additional 1.00 million twenty-foot equivalent units (Mteu) annually through HHLA terminals in Hamburg. Furthermore, the Swiss-Italian group plans to relocate its German liner shipping head office from Bremen to Hamburg and transfer its German center for cruise operations from Munich to Hamburg.
While other major shipping companies had expressed interest in a similar deal, MSC stood out by offering additional advantages and, crucially, by accepting a 49% minority stake, which allows Hamburg to maintain ultimate control of its port—a crucial factor in gaining approval from the city parliament’s majority.
In contrast to the recent sale of a 24.9% stake (initially planned as 35%) in HHLA’s Container Terminal Tollerort (CTT) in Hamburg to COSCO of China, which faced opposition from Germany’s Federal Ministry of the Economy, the planned sale of HHLA to MSC does not require approval from Berlin. The Aponte family intends to invest through an Italian-registered investment vehicle, making it an intra-EU deal subject to less regulatory scrutiny concerning foreign ownership of critical infrastructure.
HHLA presently operates three container terminals in Hamburg: the wholly-owned CTB, the HHLA-Hapag-Lloyd (25.1%) joint venture CTA, and the HHLA-COSCO (approximately 24.9%) joint venture CTT. Additionally, HHLA operates a reefer terminal in collaboration with Sea-Invest (49%) and a multipurpose-container-roro terminal in partnership with Grimaldi Napoli (49%). The company also operates a wholly-owned rail freight company, offering scheduled container block trains between its marine terminals and destinations in central Europe, such as Poland and the Czech Republic.
As of now, not all details of the MoU have been made public, but more information is expected to be disclosed in the near future. This landmark deal holds the promise of reshaping the dynamics of the Port of Hamburg and its associated logistics operations, potentially ushering in a new era of growth and development.