Wednesday, December 2, 2020

The most challenging book we've ever written

Aafke Steenhuis and I are concen-trating on finishing a book, The Big Rough Sea - World Ports and Globalization, due out in 2022. It will be a year of intensive work to get it done the way we want. It is the most comprehensive and challenging book we have ever written or edited (I have edited many books on the world economy, see FONDAD books -

We started the book in 2013, slowly, when we visited Latin America's largest port, Santos (Brazil), and Valpara√≠so (Chile). In the following years, we conveniently visited ports in Asia (Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Mumbai, Dubai), North America (Los Angeles and Long Beach) and Europe (Hamburg, Rotterdam, Barcelona, ​​Marseille, Genoa, Piraeus ). We have yet to go to Cape Town and Alexandria in Africa, and hope we can also visit Murmansk and Sydney - all in 2021. 

For the book, we have made a website: The Big Rough Sea - World Ports and Globalization.

Here is the pitch we wrote for our publisher in Rotterdam:

The Big Rough Sea - World Ports and Globalization (2022)
“We live in an age deeply influenced by maritime enterprise, but our percep-tions of its importance have shifted almost 180 degrees in only two or three generations. Today we see pleasure where our forebears saw peril, and we can savor the fruits of maritime commerce without being remotely aware of its existence, even when we live in cities that originally grew rich from sea trade,” says the American maritime writer Lincoln Paine, who is one of the many persons Aafke Steenhuis and Jan Joost Teunissen have interviewed for their book.

Thousands of years ago, international trade was conducted by land and sea from the ancient cultural regions of Egypt, Mesopotamia, China and India. In the course of time other peoples, such as the Greeks, the Romans, the Arabs, the Vikings took part in this early globalization. From the Middle Ages, international trade became entangled with powerful European city-states, sailing ships with cannons, the establishment of trading posts and the conquest of colonies, slave trade, industrialization and exploitation, steam shipping and diesel oil shipping. After the introduction of containers, around 1960, cargo ships became bigger and bigger, transport costs lower, with the result that production and labor moved to low-wage countries. Asian countries developed rapidly. The seven largest world ports are now in China. Rotterdam was the largest port in the world from 1962 until 2005.
The globalization of the last decades has created a global consumer society that is in the process of bringing about dramatic climate change and extinction of the species. Desperate efforts are now being made to turn the tide by making ports and ships cleaner and switch from fossil to green energy. This means that ports have become the pivot in the search for a better, cleaner world, because ninety percent of world trade is carried out by ship. 
How can the runaway global economy become sustainable? How can wild capitalism be tamed? 
Ports used to be the distributors of products, techniques, cultures, religions, as well as infectious diseases. They still supply oil, coal, grains, machines, cars, chemicals, smartphones and many other manufacturing and consumer goods. What is the history of these ports? How is and was life in these port cities? How do the people who work there view, for example, the rise of China and other Asian countries, climate change, the future of ports?  
With those questions in mind, Aafke Steenhuis and Jan Joost Teunissen traveled to port cities in Asia, North and South America, Africa, the Middle East and Europe. They visited fascinating and colorful ports such as Shanghai, Hong Kong, Singapore, Mumbai, Dubai, Piraeus, Genoa, Marseille, Rotterdam, Hamburg, Alexandria, Cape Town, Santos and Los Angeles. In The Big Rough Sea - World Ports and Globalization they map out the history and future of world ports and world shipping.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

Hamburg - European Hub for China's New Silk Road

My wife Aafke Steenhuis and I recently visited the Port of Hamburg, for a book we are writing about world ports and globalization. If you want to know what the book is about, you can take a look at the website we created for the book: THE BIG, ROUGH SEA - World ports and globalization.

The port of Hamburg is one of the largest industrial areas in Europe. The port is located in the city itself, along the river Elbe, more than 100 km from the sea. In order for large, deep-lying container ships to arrive in Hamburg, the river must be constantly dredged.

The Port of Hamburg also wanted a deepening, 18 years ago. It created a long struggle with environmental groups and fruit growers south of the river. In 2020, the Port of Hamburg finally won the battle.

Perhaps the main reason the port won is its economic importance. It creates about 156,000 jobs and the port is Hamburg's biggest taxpayer.
Hamburg is the third largest port in Europe, after Rotterdam and Antwerp. One of the differences between Hamburg and the other two ports is that almost 50% of all cargo goes by rail to the hinterland.

China is by far the largest trading partner of the Port of Hamburg. Hamburg sees itself as the European hub for China's New Silk Road. Hamburg is an important rail hub for transport to and from China.

A few years ago, Greenpeace protested in the port of Hamburg against the arrival of a ship carrying coal from Russia. A banner said, "Global climate action means we must stop burning coal."

The port of Hamburg still imports coal, as do the ports of Amsterdam and Rotterdam. In 2016, 40% of electricity in Germany was generated from coal. Today, a third of the electricity in Germany still comes from coal. The use of coal is expected to end in 2038.

Hamburg has beaches along the Elbe, not for swimming but for sun-bathing and playing. It also has many nice terraces, with good coffee.

I made a short film about our visit to Hamburg which includes images of the Elbe river, tug and ferry boats, a long freight train coming from a container terminal, and the arrival of a COSCO container ship. I play the guitar music that accompanies it.

PS: The picture above comes from the online magazine of HHLA

Wednesday, July 22, 2020


A visit to a small city-state that is the second largest port in the world.

Monday, January 20, 2020

The Lessons of Hong Kong

Writing a book about port cities and being busy with two cities my wife and I have visited recently, Singapore and Hong Kong, I think about the international, global perspective that is much needed in matters such as political struggle (locally, nationally and internationally), human rights, labour conditions, wages, social security, food, education, income distribution, pensions, production, consumption, trade, transport, clean air/ground/water, the role of armies, economic growth, and, finally, although my list is longer: democracy.

I'd like to say a few words about democracy, inspired by an article I just read in the South China Morning Post of 19 Dec 2019, "Don't cry for Hong Kong. Say sorry and fix our problems", written by Bernard Yeung. Reflecting on the conflict between HK Government and HK citizens, Yeung advocates reconciliation and cooperation. He argues that a government has to balance the interests of all classes, including those of the future generation. "If that balance is lost," he says, "the state can be captured by tycoons or populists. The former leads to disparity and helplessness of the underprivileged. The latter leads to the mutual dependence of opportunistic politicians and special interest groups seeking instant policy impacts leading to costly, inconsistent policies."

Bernard Yeung also advocates "responsible and respectful communication" between the HK Government and its protesting citizens, a plea I support - in part because I have seen in Chile, where I lived during the last year of the Allende Government in 1973, how the lack of responsible and respectful communication, contributed to creating a climate that led to civic-military dictatorship and brutal repression during 17 years.

When I read the article by Yeung, I thought one could apply his plea for balancing interests and respectful communication also to western democracies in the Americas, Europe and elsewhere. The United States, Brasil, the United Kingdom (Britain) are sad examples. France, the Netherlands and Italy (and other European countries) have prominent populists too.

I just finished a short film I made about Hong Kong, which includes a civil protest action and images of the famous Star Ferry. You can see it by clicking on the link below.

Videothumbnail: Hong Kong Port
Hong Kong Port