Already well advanced in the heart of Europe’s second biggest port – Hamburg - are extensive works to improve accessibility and manoeuverability for big container and cruise ships.

Three phase construction on the €98 million redesign and restructuring project at Tollerort in the German North Sea port began in 2014 and Maritime Journal has been told that work is still on schedule late year for completion in 2017.

The project, described by some as “open-heart surgery” because of the activity around it, involves the removal of the Tollerortspitze, a four hectare area of land which juts into the Norderelbe, the busy northern arm of the River Elbe. The excavated soil is being used to backfill the Kohlenschiffhafen harbour basin which lies alongside and that area will become replacement land for the adjacent big Container Terminal Tollerort (CTT).

Martin Boness, spokesman for the Hamburg Port Authority, told Maritime Journal in November “work is progressing according to schedule. We plan to complete the project in early 2017”.

The Tollerortspitze lies at the entrance to the busy and important Vorhafen harbour basin, which is the direct access route to major facilities in Steinwerder, not only the CTT but also the new Cruise Centre 3 (CC3) inaugurated earlier this year, the Central Terminal Steinwerder development site (CTS) and Hamburg’s biggest shipyard Blohm and Voss.

To ensure that Hamburg, Europe’s second biggest port after Rotterdam, fully exploits its potential for growth and retains its position as a global freight hub, the HPA has developed a strategy called smartPORT.

It comprises innovations and projects in various areas of the port which are designed to make trade and traffic flows even more efficient. Optimising the Vorhafen harbour basin to enhance navigational safety and operational efficiency is one of those major projects.

Due to its location on the Norderelbe and because of existing river bank geometry, river current conditions in the northern Vorhafen harbour basin are unique. At the moment, inbound and outbound large ships – container vessels and cruise ships, as well as other vessels headed for shipyard work at Blohm + Voss, face restrictions on when they can enter the basin.

The HPA however says trade in the port is likely to increase and that even more large vessels will need access to the Vorhafen in future. To meet that demand infrastructure facilities must be adapted now if Hamburg is to keep its competitive edge, the Authority says. It adds that optimised waterside access to terminals will not only increase operational efficiency but also safety and navigational predictability.

The Tollerortspitze restructuring will, in fact, lengthen the time and tidal windows available to inbound and outbound vessels and match the entry and exit conditions on the Elbe in the western area of the Port of Hamburg – closer to the North Sea.

The changes will also mean more space for big ships to manoeuver or turn round. Currently, and because the water area is narrow, large vessels have only limited room. Summing that up the HPA says: “In view of ever increasing ship sizes, widening the access area is a must, not least to ensure safety of navigation”.

The Tollerortspitze project was initialised in 2008 and official planning approval was granted in 2011. Construction planning, contract awards and preparatory measures followed up to 2014. The latter have included work on ship berths, partial excavation and dredging as well as on the removal of unexploded ordnance (an ever-present civil engineering hazard in the once war-torn German port).

Main construction got underway in 2014 with completion originally tagged for 2016/2017. As Martin Boness told Maritime Journal, that ambitious schedule still holds as does, apparently, the €98 million price tag.

The restructuring covers the excavation of about one million m3 of soil from the Tollerortspitze, a volume which includes about 0.6 million m3 dredged from the Norderelbe itself. Of the excavated material, only about 0.55 million m3 are needed to backfill about half of the adjacent area of the Kohlenschiffhafen. Excess soil is being stored in a temporary facility set up near the Kuhwerder Terminal for use in other port expansion projects. The Kohlenschiffhafen backfill project also includes the erection of a 350m new embankment on the Norderelbe which will allow the creation of berths for feeder ships as well as dredging work to further improve ship maneouverability.

As well as the excavation of the Tollerortspitze and the demolition of its former Norderelbe frontage, the restructuring covers the construction of a new Tollerort terminal northern quay wall about 220m in length some 120m behind the original frontage. The CTT’s existing main quay wall Eurokai is also being strengthened by a new 90 m long reinforcement wall built in front of the existing facility.

Finally, the removal of the Tollerortspitze also means the enlarging of the reportedly 16.7m deep turning circle for ships in the Vorhafen entrance by about four hectares. Hamburg Economics Senator Frank Horch said when the first sod was turned : “Harbour pilots will in future have a circle of nearly 500m to turn the giant ships and manoeuver them to the terminals. There will soon be even more giant container ships to be seen in the heart of the port”, he added.

To make manoeuverability even more reliable. The restructuring also involves strengthening work at Blohm + Voss’ Lotsenhöft opposite the CTT. The Lotsenhöft is an historic spit of shipyard property jutting into the Vorhafen and it is getting a foreshore quay wall structure as an allround reinforcement of the existing quay wall along a length of about 160m

Tollerortspitze restructuring and the backfilling of the Kohlenschiffhafen is in the hands of Colcrete-von-Essen while Bilfinger Construction is handling the CTT quayside restructuring and August Prien Bauunternehmung landed the Lotsenhöft reinforcement work.

BY Tom Todd