HHLA International GmbH – Hamburg, Germany

Share with a colleague!

Interview with

Mr. Philip Sweens
Managing Director

Philip Sweens

Let’s begin with a little bit about HHLA. What does the abbreviation stand for, and could you elaborate a bit on the history of HHLA as I understand that you now also have an international logistics outfit in HHLA?

HHLA – Hamburg Hafen und Logistik AG – is a well-diversified, European logistics company listed on the stock exchange. The company has a long history, established in 1885 to manage the port activities in Hamburg.

Today, HHLA operates container terminals in Hamburg (Germany), Odessa (Ukraine), and Tallinn (Estonia). In addition, with its intermodal subsidiary Metrans (one of Europe’s biggest private rail operators), HHLA has a close-meshed network with its own intermodal terminals in Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary and Poland. Metrans offers excellent hinterland connections to Central and Eastern Europe. HHLA represents a logistics and digital hub along the transport flows of the future. Its business model is based on innovative technologies and is committed to sustainability.

Metrans is a subsidiary of HHLA © HHLA / Thies Rätzke
Metrans is a subsidiary of HHLA
© HHLA / Thies Rätzke

I understand from the market that as HHLA, you are active in the Caucasus region. Tell us about your business there. How did it come about that you, as HHLA, established yourself in Georgia and Azerbaijan?

One of the companies in the intermodal division is HHLA Project Logistics LLC, based in Georgia and Azerbaijan. As a result, we have been present in the region since 2001, initially under a different brand.

Next to providing traditional forwarding services to local and international customers, HHLA Project Logistics has become the specialist for project cargoes to Georgia, Azerbaijan, and the broader Caucasus region.

HHLA Heavy Transport
HHLA Handling a Transformer
© HHLA / Thies Rätzke

If we focus on both Georgia and Azerbaijan, what are the logistics services that you provide customers with? Do you also serve other freight forwarders and logistics companies or do you deal mainly with direct shippers?

HHLA Project Logistics is a specialized company for all logistics and forwarding services in the region with almost 20 years of experience in arranging challenging transports. 

In addition to providing the traditional forwarding and logistics services, HHLA Project Logistics is specialized in the transport of high & heavy project logistics by sea, barge, truck, and rail. We also provide special features such as customs clearance and warehousing as well as GPS tracking.

HHLA Project Logistics
Project Cargo Alongside
© HHLA / Thies Rätzke

Our business model is primarily focused on providing an efficient and high quality service to forwarders without having to have their own presence in this demanding region. For this, we work with many different international partners to support their needs in the region. 

To ensure this, we have a team of 15 specialists in our offices in Poti, Tbilisi, and Baku with longstanding experience in all kinds of complex shipments to support the different customer requirements. Being part of the HHLA Group, we are also intransigent on compliance, a further value added service in the region for our international partners.

Block Yard Container Terminal Odessa © HHLA / Thies Rätzke
Block Yard Container Terminal Odessa
© HHLA / Thies Rätzke

Is HHLA also involved in block train traffic to/from Asia, mainly China?

Alongside intermodal hinterland transport and continental traffic in Europe, HHLA’s rail subsidiary Metrans is indeed very active on the rail-bound Silk Road. Metrans is further expanding its rail services from Asia growth markets to Europe and vice versa.

TK Estonia Container Terminal © HHLA / Thies Rätzke
TK Estonia Container Terminal
© HHLA / Thies Rätzke

Tell us about your own background, Mr. Sweens. I met you a couple of years ago when you worked at one of the major container shipping companies, and now I have the pleasure to interview you as a representative of HHLA. I am sure our readers would like to know a bit more about what led you to choose a shipping & logistics career in the first place.

The transport and logistics sector has always fascinated me. One of my previous bosses once said it is ‘big toys for big boys’, and there is some truth to this. However, my start in the shipping industry was somewhat of a coincidence.

After my studies, I started with a strategy consulting company, and the first project I worked for was the restructuring of a port operator. This is where I caught the ‘maritime’ bug. Most of the projects I worked on for the following 12 years were related to shipping, rail or logistics, in Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

In 2008, I moved to the shipowner side, first in Dubai, later on in Hamburg. Three years ago, I joined HHLA to manage the new international subsidiary. I thought it would be an interesting challenge and a good combination between managing the existing international activities and further expanding the company’s international presence. I have not regretted this as the job is very exciting, and I have a great team supporting me in this venture.

Project Cargo by Rail
© HHLA / Thies Rätzke

How do you view the future, and what plans, if any, do you have to develop HHLA International on the logistics side?

The aim is to further develop the activities of HHLA Project Logistics in the Caucasus region, capitalizing on the know-how and experience of the team. Further, with the owned ports in Odessa and Tallinn, we are looking at ways to further tie our presence in those countries to create more of a network. 

Finally, we are also endeavouring to network even further with like-minded logistics and forwarding companies in these regions.

HHLA Transformer
Transformer Under Hook
© HHLA / Thies Rätzke

What is the best way to get in touch with you?

Best is actually to contact our local team, led by Mr. Korneli Korchilava as Managing Director of HHLA Projects Logistics. His contact details can be found on the website of HHLA: https://hhla.de/en/company/subsidiaries/project-logistics/contact-persons