A dispute in the Berlin shipping business: Dirty smoke signals on the Spree

Dispute in the shipping industry in Berlin

Dirty smoke signals on the Spree

Sat 06/18/2012 | 07:06 | FROM Szymon Wenzel

Picture: dpa / Kay Nietfeld

Berlin-based electric boat forwarder is struggling with long-standing shipping companies in the city. Objection: Those who mainly use diesel boats across the Spree should be denied access to the piers to new entrants in the electric boat market. Simon Wenzel

The first hot weekend of the year also awakens the appetite for water. A classic: a trip to the River Spree on the sunny deck of a steamboat, especially for tourists. But there seems to be an industry behind the leisurely boat ride past the government quarter and some of the city’s sights with a lot of trouble.

Ships are mostly rattling diesel cans, emit over 10,000 tonnes of CO2 per year, and there’s no reason to hope that that will change any time soon. Because behind the clouds of exhaust gas there is a market with problematic structures, divided among long-standing shipping companies. Newcomers, according to the accusation, are not allowed in.

That’s what someone says, who wants just what: a ride in the boat excursion business. Luis Lindner is publicly fighting the giants of Berlin shipping companies with his electric boat “Fitzgerald”. Meanwhile, the case is even being investigated by state antitrust authorities. A week ago, Spiegel already reported on the Lindner case. It reads in the article [spiegel.de, Paywall] as if the energy transformation in the capital was blocked by a problematic system.

Diesel ships are hardly reworked, the Senate seems powerless

According to the Senate Department of Environment and Transport, about 100 passenger ships sail in Berlin’s waters every day. Most of them run on diesel fuel, and only a few of them have been equipped with pollution filters, although the Berlin Senate has provided financial resources for this for years. Only three ships have been fitted with particulate filters thanks to funding, the Senate said in response to a request from rbb.

The largest shipping company, Stern und Kreisschifffahrt, which operates a total of 31 ships, says it fitted three more with filters without financing – a total of six boats were retrofitted in this way. The shipping company also writes that the conversion is a technically complex and costly process.

But she didn’t even have to explain herself. Because there is no legally mandatory requirement to transform shipping into modern times. According to the Senate, the change is welcome, but it can only ask nicely and promote the change of traffic on the Spree with financial incentives. If the long-established shipping companies don’t feel like it, they just quit and forgo their subsidies.

According to a spokesman for the Senate Department of Environment and Transport, there is no appropriate legal basis. Since the Spree is a federal waterway (as is the Havel and the Landwehr canal), only the responsible federal authorities can issue measures such as high-emission shipping bans, and they have not yet done so.

If suppliers with a long tradition are not forced to change technology and do not want to solve the problem themselves – for whatever reason – it would be good if new suppliers could give the market momentum. For example, electric boat enthusiasts such as Luis Lindner with his company “Schoeneschiffe”. So far, there has been only one beautiful ship: the Fitzgerald is set to demonstrate Lindner’s ambitions. According to Lindner, the boat has already been completely converted to electric drive – 80 percent, by the way.

Allegation: market abuse

But the ship itself won’t get him anything, since Lindner can drive his electric ship across the Spree, but according to his own statements, he can’t dock in the city center to pick up passengers. And here we come to the scandalous potential of the topic: accusations that shipping companies set up in Berlin are abusing their market power. At least that’s what Lindner puts it – and he is not alone, because the state antitrust office informed us that since the summer of 2019 there have been complaints from newcomers to the market (note, plural).

Lindner describes it this way: “We have a closed market, with a few players, one of whom stands out, which is Stern und Kreisschifffahrt. It has nearly 100 jetties in the city that cover Berlin’s waterways like cobwebs, ”he says.

This would not be a problem in itself, as passenger shipping in the city should indeed be based on the principle of reciprocity, as the responsible Senate for Environment and Transport announced in 2018 in response to a parliamentary question on this matter. Theoretically, competitors can moor at the competition’s private jetties for a fee, if you agree to a free time slot. In practice, however, it does not seem to work that way.

Lindner complains about the lack of access to the jetties, and Stern and Kreisschifffahrt refuse

Lindner himself has already reported his problems in several media outlets. Either he was completely denied berth to attractive competition piers, or the fees charged were so high that it was not worth it. “For years, there have been the same shipping companies who share the piers and give them away,” Lindner told Rbb. To be there, you need an attractive pier. It describes the principle of the exchange based on the motto: You want to invest with me, I want to invest with you. But Lindner does not have an attractive bridge to engage in such barter.

The Stern und Kreisschifffahrt rejects the allegations that newcomers to the market, especially those with electric boats, are denied access to the attractive jetties, but at the request of RBB. In principle, all external suppliers can dock to passenger ships, the fees Stern and Kreis charge for this are standard in the market and the propulsion system does not matter, says managing director Andreas Behrens. Only your own targeting operation limits the use of investors by others. Stern and Kreis say they have around 90 daily departures from 90 quays.

Berlin refers to the federal government

If you want to build a pier in Berlin, you must act quickly and need the approval of several authorities. The Senate Department of Environment and Transport, and more specifically the water authorities, must give consent, but above all the federal administration of waterways and shipping. According to the state authorities of Berlin, only water-legal aspects can be checked, it cannot require any conditions, such as the use of electric ships. The federal authority issues the actual use contract. Once issued, contracts are usually renewed from year to year, unless actively terminated. Web spaces reappear on the market only in exceptional cases.

The Senate shifts responsibility for the passenger shipping dilemma to the federal government. Both for mandatory environmental requirements and for the final allocation of dock areas. It would be interesting to know what federal authorities say about possible abuse of power by shipping companies and against this background about their previous procurement practices. Unfortunately, on Thursday and Friday, rbb24 was unable to contact the press office of the Spree-Havel Waterways and Shipping Office by phone or e-mail.

Here comes an electric pump with a bridge, but that’s not enough

Finally: if all goes to plan, Luis Lindner will soon have his own fast-charging dock. A charging station for the bridge is currently under construction, says Lindner. In the North Harbor, it is now implementing plans that were originally intended for the Humboldt Harbor. Lindner wanted to build his long-awaited bridge with an electric charging station right next to Berlin’s main train station, in a good tourist location. But here, years ago, he was overtaken by the Stern und Kreisschifffahrt. She asked for the pier. However, this was not approved, partly because priority was given to building a new S-Bahn 21 line. First, there is no pier at Humboldthafen, neither for Lindner nor for the Stern und Kreissschifffahrt.

The North Harbor is an emergency solution, and Lindner is still looking and needing a downtown pier, which is where tourists spontaneously board the boat. Without it, he couldn’t build a profitable business, he says. The station in Nordhafen is intended solely for charging and parking. Lindner is counting on a quick decision by the state antitrust authorities, but he shouldn’t have too much hope. When asked by rbb, the competent Senate in charge of the economy was unable to provide any information on how long the state investigation should take.

Luis Lindner informs that he is contacting the proper administration of the Senate again. From his point of view, the talks this week went “very positive”. Sam: “There doesn’t seem to be much he can do for him, as the decisive laws and permits are issued by the federal authorities, as the state of Berlin itself explained.

Lindner can no longer fight the giants of the market

One thing is certain for Luis Lindner: but he can no longer argue with established shipping companies endlessly. He is afraid that in one of the following seasons he will need access to the footbridge in a good position, otherwise his project would be at risk.

This summer, Fitzgerald will likely not be able to collect any tourists at Mitte hotspots. Lindner says the big shipping companies don’t talk to him anymore. Stern und Kreis did not want to comment on the dispute with Mr. Lindner. The shipowners’ association, which associates many other market players, did not respond to rbb’s request on this matter. But it seems that little help is not expected from him either. According to the “Spiegel” report, its president has a large gas station in the city.

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