It is no secret that the Port of Hamburg has come under enormous competitive pressure in recent years. It was also known that the city Senate was looking for a financially strong partner for the listed operating company HHLA (Hamburger Hafen und Logistik AG). But now there was a big bang: the city wants to sell 49.9 percent of the shares in HHLA to the shipping company MSC, based in Geneva. Transaction value according to financial circles: around 2.6 billion euros.

The news caused the HHLA share price to jump from just under 12 to more than 17 euros on the stock exchange – but otherwise almost exclusively raised eyebrows. Because the world’s largest shipping company MSC does not have the best reputation. The owner of the MSC is the Italian Aponte family. Company founder Gianluigi Aponte is among the 100 richest people in the world with an estimated fortune of around $20 billion.

Hamburg Senate circles say that other possible partners – such as the fifth largest shipping company in the world, Hapag-Lloyd, in which the city has a stake – only wanted to negotiate for a majority stake. But the city didn’t want that. Selling the port – a political no-go in the Hanseatic city. Economics Senator Melanie Leonhard (SPD) emphasizes that the city is regaining influence in this way.

Finance Senator Andreas Dressel (also SPD) points to the possible existence of social partnership in HHLA’s operations. And Federal Economics Minister Robert Habeck (Greens) says he has no concerns about the deal “for now.” According to reports, enthusiasm about MSC is much more limited in the Hamburg Green parliamentary group, coalition partner of the SPD. And not just there.

The Verdi union warns against “selling away silverware”, and the HHLA works council still wants to “evaluate” the situation. The employee representatives had already prevented a deal with a strike threat. Billionaire Klaus-Michael Kühne, co-owner of the shipping company Hapag-Llyod, strongly advises the company to make a counteroffer for the HHLA shares. Kühne himself is also considering a counteroffer, he told the “Hamburger Abendblatt”. Port entrepreneur Thomas Eckelmann, majority shareholder of Eurokai, is also considering making a counteroffer – on the same terms as MSC. Eckelmann warned the “Abendblatt” about the MSC entry: “This deal would be a catastrophe for the port of Hamburg.”

Such reactions might have been expected in the Hamburg Senate. Dirk Kienscherf, chairman of the SPD parliamentary group, noted on Facebook: “The details will be discussed with everyone involved and also in the citizens in the next few weeks.” What will come of this remains to be seen.

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