The German Shipowners’ Association (VDR) is a leading industry association within the German business community. Founded in 1907 by regional associations of shipping companies to allow their interests to be represented in a common and uniform manner, the Hamburg-based VDR now represents German maritime shipping companies not only in Berlin, Bonn and Brussels, but also at the global level via its memberships in various international organisations, such as in London and Geneva.
The shipping sector is also feeling the impacts of the coronavirus pandemic. Especially at the beginning of the coronavirus crisis and during lockdowns, ferry and passenger shipping companies are confronted with major declines in passenger numbers. The cruise shipping segment, which had been enjoying steady success until then, is more or less completely idled worldwide. Most merchant ships remain in operation, thereby ensuring that national economies are supplied with all kinds of vital goods, especially food, protective clothing and medications. However, in addition to being denied shore leave, the seafarers on board these ships are often unable to return home at the end of their deployment because they are not permitted to disembark, there are hardly any flights to take them home, no possibilities for them to get vaccinated, or their home countries refuse them entry. This often leads to great problems and the VDR and many others repeatedly draw attention to this untenable state of affairs, which has impacted roughly 400,000 seafarers worldwide.
Germany is the world’s fifth-largest shipping nation, with a 4.9% share of the global merchant fleet. At the end of 2019, a total of 2,140 ships with 52.8 million GRT are registered in German shipping registers – which is still much more than before the global boom in shipping that had begun two decades earlier. After the crisis years and their sometimes painful aftermath, most German shipping companies are again looking to the future with at least cautious optimism. Despite a further decline in the number of ships, the number of crew members employed in Germany who are subject to social security contributions has remained more or less stable in recent years. In terms of the national structure of shipping companies, Germany is still characterised by a large number of small and medium-sized companies (SMEs), with roughly 80% of German shipping companies managing fewer than 10 vessels.
The fleet of German shipping companies comprises more than 3,900 vessels (ships of over 1,000 GRT), with roughly 95 million GRT combined. Measured in terms of total GRT and by having an almost 10% share of the global fleet, Germany holds third place – behind Japan and Greece – in the ranking of shipping nations and merchant fleets. In terms of container ships, with roughly 1,800 units and a global TEU share of almost 33%, German shipping companies rank in first place – and far ahead of the country’s rivals. Nevertheless, German shipping companies are facing their most severe and long-lasting crisis since the end of the Second World War, and the German merchant fleet significantly contracts over the next few years.
The crisis on the international shipping and finance markets increasingly threatens Germany’s status as a shipping hub.
The global crisis impacting finance markets and trade reaches the shipping markets.
Almost all submarkets of the global maritime shipping sector are enjoying full employment. Piracy off the coast of Somalia is reaching unprecedented levels, with ships being hijacked and crew members being held for ransom.
The VDR celebrates its 100th anniversary. Germany’s merchant fleet under German and foreign flags reaches the 60 million GRT mark.
With more than 500 ships now sailing under German flag again, the shipping companies represented by the VDR fulfil the pledge they made at the National Maritime Conference held in Lübeck in 2003.
The security-enhancement measures (ISPS Code) introduced in international maritime shipping in the wake of the attacks of 11 September 2001 are reshaping the shipping world, including all processes in intermodal transport chains.
At the third National Maritime Conference, held in Lübeck, German shipowners pledge to have at least 100 more ships operating under German flag again by the end of 2005.
After Germany’s federal government and large parts of the federal ministries have relocated from Bonn to Berlin in the wake of German reunification, the VDR’s office in Bonn is dissolved and a new “satellite office” is opened in Berlin.
The first National Maritime Conference is held in Emden as part of efforts to safeguard Germany’s status as a shipping hub. Germany’s merchant fleet comprises 1,850 vessels with a collective tonnage of roughly 20 million GRT.
Special depreciation rules for ships are replaced by a new tonnage tax system in Germany. More specifically, to promote Germany’s status as a shipping hub and to offer comparable competitive conditions, shipping companies can now elect to use a tonnage-based method of calculating taxable income in accordance with § 5a of the German Income Tax Law (EStG).
On 1 January, the VDR merges with the Association of German Coastal Shipowners (Verband Deutscher Küstenschiffseigner – VDK), which has existed since 1896. Since then, the VDR has been the only umbrella organisation of the German maritime shipping sector at the national level.
Germany’s merchant fleet now consists of just over 1,400 ships, of which more than 900 are still operating under German flag.
An international shipping register known as the GIS is established in the Federal Republic of Germany (i.e. West Germany) to safeguard the competitiveness of ships operating under German flag.
Initial test voyages are made with “18-man-vessels” and “integrated crews” on “ships of the future”. Germany’s merchant fleet comprises 1,900 vessels, of which over 1,500 are operating under German flag.
Shipping companies in the VDR jointly found the “Ausbildungsgemeinschaft für die deutsche Seeschifffahrt”, a vocation training community for Germany’s maritime shipping sector.
Establishment of the VDR’s collective labour community.
Owing to the difficult competitive situation on international markets, German shipping companies start to register more and more of their vessels in non-German registers and to operate them under foreign flags.
The VDR becomes a founding member of the European Community Shipowners’ Association (ECSA), which was initially known as the Comité des Associations d’Armateurs des Communautés Européenes (CAACE). Originally headquartered in Paris, the association relocated to Brussels – the “capital of Europe” – in 1973.
The VDR celebrates its 50th anniversary. The association’s magazine – known then as “Kehrwieder” but now as “Deutsche Seeschifffahrt” – is published for the first time.
The VDR becomes a founding member of the Verein zur Förderung des seemännischen Nachwuches, an association to promote the seafarers of tomorrow, which is now the Bremen-based centre for careers in maritime shipping called the Berufsbildungsstelle Seeschifffahrt (BBS).
The VRD renews its memberships in the International Chamber of Shipping (ICS) and the International Shipping Federation (ISF).
The VDR returns to the international stage after renewing its membership in the Baltic and International Maritime Conference (BIMCO, today Baltic and International Maritime Council).
The VDR becomes a member of the Confederation of German Employers’ Associations (BDA).
Immediately after the end of the Second World War, the VDR is re-established as a registered association under private law and a democratic constitution to represent the economic and socio-political interests of German shipping companies.
As part of the National Socialists’ process of centralising economic structures, the VDR is dissolved and merged with the “Fachgruppe Reeder” (specialist group of shipowners) of the Reichsverkehrsgruppe Seeschifffahrt (RVGS).
The ZDR becomes the German Shipowners’ Association (VDR). At the same time, the VDR re-assumes the functions of the “Wirtschaftsausschuss der Deutschen Reedereien”, an economic commission of German shipping companies.
The “War Commission” is renamed the “Economic Commission”.
The first collective pay agreement is concluded between the ZDR and the employee representatives of seafarers.
The ZDR plays a role in the founding of the “Kriegsausschuss der Deutschen Reedereien” (War Commission of German Shipping Companies). The commission takes over responsibility for representing the interests of shipping companies in terms of economic policies and primarily deals with compensation proceedings resulting from the war. The ZDR, on the other hand, retains responsibility for socio-political matters.
The ZDR becomes a founding member of the International Shipping Federation (ISF).
The association is founded in Berlin on 6 February 1907 as the “Zentralverein Deutscher Rheder e.V” (ZDR), a central association of German shipowners founded to unite what had been associations at the regional level.