Development of the German ship supply business

The ship suppliers started off as small companies, but some of them have developed in the course of time to become large and important, with a few employing more than 100 people and maintaining store rooms of several thousand square metres.

As business expanded, it became more and more difficult for the smaller companies to maintain sufficiently large stocks of their own. Hence the increasingly importance of wholesalers, Hamburg is playing a dominating role in Germany. Ship suppliers in seaports such as Bremen, Bremerhaven, Emden, Flensburg, Kiel, Lübeck, Rostock, Wilhelmshaven etc. were able to survive in competition with the big companies only if they could offer their customers the same range of products as their competitors in Hamburg. This has proved possible by cooperation with the wholesale business (mainly located in Hamburg), giving German ship suppliers an important position in the international market.

Following World War II, reconstruction of the ship supply companies in Germany got off to a slow start. It was not until the fifties that the ship supply business livened up again, following the German currency reform and the increase in international shipping in German ports, and the reconstruction of our merchant navy.

German ship suppliers had to regain their old market position step by step, in competition with the neighbouring seafaring nations. Fortunately, they have succeeded in doing so, and in keeping pace with the rapid growth and technical developments in the world shipping fleet.

Following German unification, private-sector companies have again become established in the Eastern part of Germany, and are now playing a successful role in the market again.

In German ports there are approx. 150 ship suppliers, who supply ships with provisions, luxury goods and all kinds of technical items and spare parts. Some of these are General ship suppliers, who deliver all types of goods to ships; a number of them offer 20,000 articles and have large store rooms of several thousands of square metres and a considerable transport fleet.

Other suppliers are specialized in single categories of goods, e.g. dry provisions, meat and meat products, luxury goods, deck and engine stores, electrical equipment, ropes of all kinds, nautical goods, distress supplies and others. Besides those companies who deliver directly to ships there is another group, the whole-salers, who specialize in electrical goods, luxury goods or provisions; most of these are located in Hamburg.

International shipping has always enjoyed the privilege of consuming and using tax- and duty-free goods at sea. Thus ship suppliers do a great deal of trade in duty-free foreign and tax-free German and EU goods, and are subject to constant controls by the customs authorities.

Customs regulations in Germany stipulate that vessels may be supplied with duty-free goods only if leaving territorial waters and bound for foreign ports. Store rooms of ship suppliers are located either in freeports or in customs ware-houses in the inland area. Freeport areas are separated by high fences, where goods can be transported and handled without direct customs control. Only incoming and outgoing deliveries are controlled by the customs authorities at the freeport border.

The consumption of duty-free and tax-free goods is strictly forbidden in all warehouses of ship suppliers and in freeports. Every single product has to be entered in the warehouse record. The delivery of duty-free goods to vessels is care-fully supervised by customs authorities.

The high level of duties and taxes on many goods makes it essential for the staff of ship suppliers to be especially trustworthy.

Many German ship suppliers maintain close business connections or firm delivery contracts with German and foreign shipowners, and have to supply these ships all over the world. Many companies use not only land and water transport for short distance traffic, but also heavy trucks and refrigerated vans for the transportation of frozen and cooled goods. German suppliers deliver worldwide.