Splash Extra

60 years in shipping

Looks can deceive. 78-year-old wakeboarding enthusaiat Joachim von der Heydt remains as sharp as ever with his views on the changing shipping industry

Joachim von der Heydt is celebrating 60 years in shipping this year. His life is a fascinating one, spanning many cycles and continents.

Von der Heydt was born in difficult circumstances during the Second World War. His German soldier father reappeared from the Russian eastern front a year after the war ended, having travelled by foot each night to avoid capture.

Post-war rationing and walking barefooted to school were early memories before commencing a shipping apprenticeship in Hamburg in 1960 with Axel Dahlstroem, a liner shipping agency representing South America, the US and West African trades.

On completion of his shipping certificate he obtained a posting to Spain’s Modesto Pineiro y Cia in Santander, where his socialising abilities allowed him to become fluent in Spanish thus opening his next career path in Germany’s Richard Wolff Agency who represented Peruvian and Cuban state lines back in Hamburg.

As a young agent von der Heydt’s ability to attend vessels at all hours and motivate stevedore gangs, bringing rewarding German sausage and beer onboard, were notorious – as was his Reeperbahn client entertainment – and he quickly realised his ability and desire to establish his own business.

Accordingly Transnaval was founded in 1974, which initially concentrated on forwarding and project business to Iran and Saudi Arabia and then represented Jeco Shipping on the Europe/Nigeria trade as well as various tramp principals.

Subsequently in 1982 Passat Schiffahrtsges commenced as the owner of two 500 teu shallow drafted vessels specially built for the Nigerian trade where they also operated under the name of America Africa Line.

The following year Transnaval represented Europe Paraguay Line (EPAL) operating from North Continent Europe to Asunción controlling, as an outsider, 70% of the trade – much to the consternation of the traditional conference operators, which eventually resulted in Hamburg Sud acquiring EPAL but retaining Transnaval as general agent for another decade.

It was in the late 1980s whilst visiting one of his 500 teu ships in Madras that von der Heydt found his second calling in Indian sub-continent feedering. This career development was to last 33 years and witness the
carriage of over 17m teu of Indian traffic via the iconic Bengal Tiger Line whose name was derived partly from the game of golf (where deploying shuttles was akin to the golfer’s direct ‘tiger line’ shot) as well as the Bay of Bengal trading area where the first service originated from Singapore to Kolkata. Holding the honours of the only shipping line to have hosted over 30 years of consecutive annual tournaments, the BTL Golf Masters is a renowned entity in the Asian shipping calendar attended by industry players from around the world.

Today von der Heydt, 78, now a great grandfather, remains a lively wakeboarding enthusiast, devoting his time to his shipmanagement company, Passat Schiffahrtsgesellschaft, a boutique operation initially catering for his own 2,700 teu Polish fleet and subsequently managing third party tonnage.

Known as a flamboyant, fast car and trendy individual, don’t be fooled by the long hair and unshaven appearance, as there belies a character of skill, leadership and tenacity which provided the abilities to successfully self-create a name in several facets of shipping.

Advice he was given 60 years ago has stood him in good stead. “Pursue a career where you have a passion. As they used to say ‘don’t join any get rich quick schemes’ – and that’s why many of us joined shipping,” von der Heydt says with a chuckle.

Could he do it all again in today’s tough shipping environment?

“What makes it difficult in today’s market is too many uncertainties. In days gone by demand was also almost guaranteed and there were markets for varying vessel sizes whereas today one has to be confident of tonnage requirement for the duration of the vessel’s life ,” von der Heydt says in a candid interview with Splash Extra.

“For too long owners were content to be given what engine manufacturers supplied and should have challenged consumption improvements long ago”

The German wishes shipping had been more on the front foot earlier when it comes to making its own destiny from a ship design/propulsion viewpoint.

“Frankly for too long owners were content to be given what engine manufacturers supplied and should have challenged consumption improvements well before soaring oil prices forced a review and before the current IMO low sulphur and future emission reduction regulations came into play,” von der Heydt says, adding: “By comparison the car and aviation industry performed better we need to now catch up – where certainly future fuel changes question what choice of engine propulsion will be in vogue.”

Despite living overseas for much of his career, von der Heydt is a proud Hamburger and in frank conversation with Splash Extra he laments how this great Hanseatic city has seen its maritime fortunes fade in recent

“Traditional financial methods have changed and the passion in ownership has been replaced by a commodity type approach – largely to save costs,” von der Heydt says. However, he argues Germany remains a manufacturing and export economy where shipping has also contributed significantly to GDP and the nation risks losing this expertise if it does not remain in the game so access to capital markets must be reestablished.

“If we don’t retain a fleet presence then perhaps even our seaport investment will be taken over by competitors and some transport efficiency advantages lost,” the shipping veteran warns, but admits this is a problem he will be leaving to the next generation to resolve.

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