In late September, the Cosco Shipping Virgo, an impressive 20,000-TEU ultra-large container ship, returned to the Port of Hamburg, Germany’s largest and Europe’s third-largest port. This mammoth vessel, measuring 399.8 meters in length and 58.6 meters in width, embarked on its voyage from China’s Tianjin Port on August 12, making stops at several key ports along the way, including Dalian, Shanghai, Ningbo, Singapore, Piraeus, and Rotterdam, before heading back to Shanghai. The ship’s captain, Mo Weidong, a seasoned mariner with over three decades of experience, has been sailing this route for five years now.
Captain Mo remarked, “Having sailed back and forth on the route between China and Europe, I have indeed witnessed the transformative effects of the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI),” as the ship called at Ningbo Zhoushan Port.
From the commanding viewpoint of the ship’s bridge, one can witness a bustling scene at the port below. Gantry cranes efficiently stack containers in precise rows, ensuring a seamless workflow.
Mo noted, “Since the beginning of this year, we’ve seen a notable increase in cargo volumes on this shipping route,” adding that there has been a surge in exports of electric vehicles, lithium-ion batteries, and solar cells. He also disclosed that aircraft parts would now be shipped weekly from the Port of Hamburg to the Tianjin Port via this route, further solidifying the thriving trade and economic exchanges between China and Europe.
Currently, the Port of Hamburg is directly connected to major Chinese ports through 15 regularly scheduled liner services. About one-third of the containers processed at the Port of Hamburg either originate from China or are destined for China.
Jens Meier, CEO of Hamburg Port Authority, emphasized the significance of cooperation between the Port of Hamburg and Chinese ports. “We are actively sharing knowledge and strengthening the corridors, particularly in maritime supply chains, as well as land-based corridors,” explained Meier.
In late August, the COSCO Shengshi, a vehicle-carrying ship, arrived at Germany’s Port of Bremerhaven, where it unloaded 530 commercial vehicles from China, marking the successful maiden voyage of the liner. During its journey to Bremerhaven, a total of 3,731 Chinese-made commercial vehicles, including over 2,700 new energy vehicles, were loaded onto the ship at the ports of Shanghai and Xiamen.
Following its departure from Xiamen, the COSCO Shengshi navigated across the Indian Ocean, passed through the Suez Canal, made stops at ports in the UK and Belgium before finally reaching Germany. This 43-day journey spanned approximately 9,900 nautical miles.
Despite the challenges posed by the COVID-19 pandemic in recent years, the flow of trade between China and Europe has displayed remarkable resilience. Mo observed an increase in trade volume, noting that it now takes two days to unload at Piraeus Port in Greece, compared to one and a half days previously.
In 2022, China and the EU, being each other’s second-largest trading partners, achieved record bilateral trade flows of 847.3 billion U.S. dollars, marking a year-on-year increase of 2.4 percent. This equates to over 1.6 million U.S. dollars worth of trade conducted on average every minute. Simultaneously, the two-way cumulative stock of direct investment had exceeded 230 billion U.S. dollars by the end of 2022.
BRI cooperation has significantly enhanced maritime connectivity, fostering a flourishing China-EU trade and economic partnership. COSCO Shipping, for instance, now operates 181 container liner routes and allocates over 50 percent of its container capacity to BRI partner countries. The company has also invested in 57 ports within these nations.
In 2016, COSCO Shipping acquired a 67-percent stake in Piraeus Port and took over the port’s management and operation. In May 2023, COSCO Shipping Ports, the company’s ports operator, acquired a nearly 25 percent stake in one of Hamburg’s terminals.
With China’s investment, Piraeus Port has become a leading European port. Data from the port revealed that in the fiscal year of 2022, its profit after tax had stood at 52.9 million euros, achieving a remarkable 43.9 percent increase from the previous year.
At Ningbo Zhoushan Port, situated some 12,000 km from Piraeus, crane operators efficiently controlled busy gantry cranes from an operation room located 3 km away.
Drawing from his decades of experience in the shipping industry, Mo highlighted that continuous infrastructure upgrades at Chinese ports have significantly improved their operational efficiency, providing solid support for the smooth flow of global trade.
“I am expecting the BRI will bolster cooperation among countries and deliver more benefits to their peoples,” Mo said.