Silke navigates 1.7 million boxes across the globe

On 01APR24, Silke Lehmköster took over the role as Senior Director Fleet Management at shipping line, Hapag-Lloyd. This makes the 37-year-old manager one of the highest-ranking female executives in global shipping. Ultimately, she is responsible for the condition of the shipping company’s 258 vessels and leased units. A huge responsibility that involves a wide range of tasks.
Even as a young child, she wanted to pursue a career in seafaring, despite growing up as a diplomat’s daughter in land-locked Austria. And yet, she did just that in 2007, when she began studying industrial engineering in Bremen. Three years later, after successfully completing her studies, she started her nautical career at Hapag-Lloyd in Hamburg. Ms. Lehmköster has big shoes to fill at the shipping company. Her predecessor is Richard von Berlepsch, a logistics veteran and icon of the maritime world.

Silke Lehmköster and Berlin Express captain Alexander Meier on board Hapag-Lloyd’s huge boxship  –  photo CFG/hs

New approaches

What will she do differently to her famous predecessor? She was asked at a press event held on board the giant Berlin Express, the 399-meter-long flagship of the Hapag-Lloyd fleet. Like its three sister ships, it can transport up to 23,664 teu per trip. “My colleague, Mr. von Berlepsch, got to know the maritime shipping world in different times than I did. Formerly, a vessel used to be a self-contained world. In contrast, today, all processes are transparent thanks to advanced digitalization, even if the captain is still in charge, of course.” In the case of her employer, this means that all crew members can use Starlink’s satellite internet to get in touch with relatives, friends or other people when desired or needed. “This increases the well-being of the seafarers on board,” says Maximilian Rothkopf, COO of the shipping company.
Enabling access to this kind of communication channel also creates new tasks for fleet management. The same applies to sustainability, says Silke Lehmköster: “Environmental aspects such as the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions are much more important than they used to be; after all, Hapag-Lloyd’s goal is to achieve net zero by 2045. Coordinating and harmonizing these various aspects of our overarching Hapag-Lloyd strategy is part of my remit,” she explains.
Her range of tasks also include retrofitting older container ships which have to be equipped with modern technology in order to comply with the stricter statutory environmental regulations if they are to continue to be used.

Diversity strategy

Although she obtained her captain’s license in 2018, and was also in command of an Hapag-Lloyd ship, her new navigation bridge is a room in Hapag-Lloyd’s Hamburg headquarters, with a view of a nearby lake, but not the ocean. Next week, she will welcome the newbuilt Singapore Express, a 23,664 teu sister ship of the Berlin Express, the fifth of this class operated by Hapag-Lloyd.
Silke Lehmköster’s appointment as fleet director is part of the Hapag-Lloyd diversity strategy. She joins Donya-Florence Amer, who was appointed Chief Information Officer (CIO) of the shipping company on 01FEB22. And since 01MAY24, Stefanie Confurius has become Head of Global Human Resources. Three women in three important management positions: Hapag-Lloyd is becoming more female.
Shortly before introducing Mrs. Lehmköster to the media, the Executive Board of Hapag-Lloyd invited the press to join a Teams Call entitled: ‘The Red Sea Crisis – Will the Suez Canal become dispensable’?

Maritime supply chains have overcome the Houthi shock

The unanimous opinion of the experts was that the Suez Canal will not become superfluous, despite the onset of habituation effects. Their names: Alan Murphy, Founder and Head of Sea Intelligence, Singapore, Rolf Habben Jansen, CEO Hapag-Lloyd, Hamburg, and Thorsten Meincke, Board Member Air & Ocean Freight, DB Schenker, Hamburg.
The experts confirmed that, following a short period of uncertainties, the maritime supply chains between East Asia and Europe around Africa are now very stable, However, maritime transports on this trade lane have become more expensive due to higher fuel burn and additional sailing time of between one week and ten days. “The safety of our crews is a priority. Passing through the Red Sea and possibly being shelled by the Houthi regime is not an option for us,” emphasized Hapag-Lloyd CEO, Rolf Habben Jansen.

When will the Red Sea nightmare end?

As a side effect of the longer voyages, there is a shortage of containers because the rotation of steel boxes takes between 2 to 4 weeks longer compared to passages through the Suez Canal. DB Schenker executive, Thorsten Meincke, pointed out that India is suffering most because the trade lanes have shifted further south due to the circumnavigation of Africa, with container ships largely bypassing the Subcontinent.
Touching decarbonization, Rolf Habben Jansen said that the problem is the ongoing shortage of green fuels. DB Schenker executive, Meincke, announced that Schenker had just signed a first shipping contract with a major customer based on biofuel – “for the company’s entire transport volume”, he added without revealing his client’s name. Alan Murphy of Sea Intelligence believes that it is possible to charge higher rates for goods transported using biofuel. There are clear indicators that the market is ripe for this, he emphasized. Finally, when asked how long the Red Sea Crisis will last, opinions differed. While Murphy expects a longer-lasting phase, Meincke and Habben Jansen were somewhat more optimistic. “I believe that the Red Sea crisis will be over before December 2024,” said the Hapag-Lloyd boss, committing to a specific date.



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