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MSC seeks to be HHLA’s No. 2 owner with 49.9% stake

MSC, the world’s largest liner operator, is set to purchase a substantial stake Hamburger Hafen und Logistik (HHLA), the largest port operator in the German port city of Hamburg.

Just a day before Germany’s National Maritime Conference starts tomorrow (14 September), HHLA announced that MSC has made an offer for a 49.9% stake. Hamburg municipal authorities have signed an agreement with MSC, setting forth the terms of the stake purchase.

HHLA said, “In close exchange with HHLA's supervisory board, the executive board will review and evaluate the announced offer in the best interests of the company and while safeguarding the interests of all stakeholders.”

MSC CEO Soren Toft announced at a press conference today that MSC will commit to process at least 1 million TEU in Hamburg as part of its bid. MSC will become HHLA’s second-largest shareholder if the stake purchase goes through. As another sign of its commitment, MSC will move its German liner and cruise offices to Hamburg, from Bremen and Munich, respectively.

Toft said acquiring HHLA will see a “long-term cooperation with no end date”, adding that the Swiss-Italian mainline operator will double its Hamburg-based jobs to more than 700.

News that a foreign entity could gain significant control of HHLA did not go down well with everyone.

Kuehne + Nagel honorary chairman Klaus-Michael Kuhne, Germany’s richest person who also has a 30% stake in Hapag-Lloyd, said in an interview with Hamburger Abendblatt that he had twice offered to buy the Hamburg municipal authorities’ 69% stake in HHLA, claiming that the port operator is “badly run”.

In June, following prolonged negotiations, the Chinese state-controlled COSCO Shipping Ports succeeded in acquiring a 24.99% stake in HHLA’s Container Terminal Tollerort in Hamburg. The stake was lower than the 35% stake CSP wanted and was down to the German government’s wariness of Chinese control of a Hamburg terminal.

Martina Li
Asia Correspondent

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