Ancient and Modern - Port of Hamburg

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Last month saw the encounter of two Chinese ships of a very special kind at the Port of Hamburg. On 19 November 2008 the recently built 10,000 TEU vessel Cosco Indian Ocean, belonging to the Cosco Container Lines shipping company, docked at the HHLA Container Terminal Tollerort.

Measuring some 1,148 ft in length, the Cosco Indian Ocean was on its maiden voyage. This was its first visit to Hamburg. The container giant is the third of four identical ships built for Cosco at Hyundai's Ulsan shipyard in South Korea. With a draught of 47.5 ft, the ship has a deadweight of 111,414 tons.

A different kind of Chinese ship has been on show at Hamburg's International Maritime Museum since 14 November 2008. Just 9,843 ft away from the Container Terminal Tollerort, the museum houses the model of an ancient Chinese treasure ship. The model dates from the time of the Chinese explorer Zheng He (1371-1435), and was presented to the museum's founder Professor Peter Tamm for his permanent exhibition by the Chinese province of Fujian.

Treasure ships were among the largest wooden ships ever built. The model treasure ship has a round hull and measures 5 ft in length. The bow is ornamented with a dragon's head, and the sides of the ship are painted with eyes to frighten off evil spirits. These lavishly equipped junks were designed to demonstrate the power of the Ming emperor Zhu Di. The famed admiral Zheng He entered his service in 1405, travelling as far as the coasts of India, Arabia and East Africa in subsequent voyages of discovery.

Container giants like the Cosco Indian Ocean are the modern equivalents of those ancient treasure ships – owing their appeal not so much to their lavish features as to the value o f the goods that they carry between Asia and Hamburg.

Relations between China and Hamburg have a long history: intensive trading has been carried on for about a century and a half. Around 400 Chinese firms are based in Hamburg, including a number of Chinese shipping companies. The Port of Hamburg plays an important part in trade with the Far East. 29 regular services call at the port on a regular basis, and already one in three containers unloaded in Hamburg comes from China. In view of its location, Hamburg is China's gateway to Northern and Eastern Europe.

The Apollon was the first Chinese ship that called at the Port of Hamburg. Its arrival in 1731 may have marked the start of intensive commercial relations with China. But the foundation had been laid in earlier years by the Chinese explorer Zheng He with his treasure ships.

(Source: Port of Hamburg Press Service)

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