Whereas many shipping companies and terminals worldwide are increasingly specializing, Grimaldi invariably aims for the best possible cargo mix. In Hamburg the Italian shipping group has found a partner for this: HHLA’s subsidiary UNIKAI.


One quality is particularly highly valued by Grimaldi. This is equally evident in the way Grimaldi ships are constructed and in their sailing schedules. And it has ensured that despite the crisis, the Italian shipping group is already on a growth course again. This important quality is known as ‘flexibility’.


“Just look at our ships, for instance,” explains Hans-Jürgen Sell, Grimaldi’s Managing Director in Germany. “Besides vehicles, most of these can also accept containers, dry cargo and even project cargo, because hanging decks permit heights to be adapted to the cargo. Moreover, they have their own cargo handling gear, so that they can discharge and load cargo in virtually every port in the world independently of any shore cranes.” They are also frequent callers at O'Swaldkai, being handled by HHLA’s UNIKAI subsidiary. “UNIKAI possesses not only car experts, but experts for everything else. That perfectly matches our cargo mix,” explains Sell. Cooperation at O'Swaldkai from 1994 was so successful that in 2007 Grimaldi acquired a 49 percent stake in UNIKAI.


The white-yellow Grimaldi ships, mostly with names beginning with GRANDE, have followed neither the trend towards narrow specialization nor the one towards seemingly boundless growth in size. The large Pure Car Carriers, for example, serve only a few ‘racetracks’,” for example between Northern Europe, the Mediterranean and Cotonou, the main port in West Africa for new and used vehicles.

Mostly, what are known as ConRo ships are deployed. Ideally, these can transport up to 800 standard containers. The remaining stowage space on between eleven and 13 decks is not filled simply with cars or rolling cargo. On the return voyage from Africa, for example, ships accept cocoa, timber or such semi-finished products as bundled broomsticks. Complete intermeshing of schedules ensures improved load factors. Some vessels sail on from Africa to South America, since a thriving trade has developed between these continents. North America, along with the Mediterranean region that is of such importance for Grimaldi, is equally tied into the ship’s planners ‘loops and strings’, through the ACL subsidiary. Just recently Finnlines, another group member, has provided a link with the Baltic states and Russia via Grimaldi’s terminal in Wallhamn, Sweden. Should an additional port have to be served in this network, then arrival and departure can shift into specific corridors.


This flexible total system is less vulnerable than the practice of competitors that concentrate on transporting hundreds of thousands of new vehicles rapidly from A to B. Grimaldi Group is quite equally good at handling business that involves large quantities. The company annually ships more than 700,000 cars, mostly new ones from leading European manufacturers, through its own large terminal in Antwerp. By comparison, the roughly 120,000 vehicles shipped every year via Hamburg, as Grimaldi’s second largest hub, may still seem insignificant. Yet it is through close cooperation with Grimaldi that O'Swaldkai that has become a truly international hub, being substantially reconstructed. “An expansion of the facility had been overdue for years,” says Michael Sieck, UNIKAI Managing Director. Access, the gate, traffic routing and parking spaces have all been totally reorganized to make working processes more efficient and to secure new storage areas. “Without the restructuring, we should have been unable to cope with the increased number of sailings.”


Grimaldi as partner attracted ACL’s North America trade from Bremerhaven for Hamburg in 2008. That represented 50 sailings a year more, and in 2009 another 36 to the Mediterranean region were added. Now cars from North America, for example, can be transhipped here for the Mediterranean, the Near East, East Asia or South America. Even the ongoing crisis in the German car industry has not caused more than a slight drop in throughput at the terminal. In Hamburg too, fewer new vehicles are being shipped, but for Grimaldi two-thirds of the wheeled cargo shipped from Hamburg consists of used cars and trucks that continue to find buyers in Africa. The ‘young-timers’ reach Hamburg in batches from all over Germany and Austria, and even from Scandinavia, Italy and Eastern Europe.