Elbe deepening tipped to boost dredging business

Elbe deepening improves prospects for big ships in Hamburg Elbe deepening improves prospects for big ships in Hamburg

Long-urged deepening of the Elbe River in Hamburg, now expected to begin in 2019, is tipped to provide a long-term stimulus to Germany’s dredging industry, writes Tom Todd.

That’s the view of Siegmund Schlie, chairman of the Association of Dredging Companies, VdN. He told a Hamburg conference that Elbe deepening – one of Germany’s biggest current transport investment projects – would spur on specialist German dredging companies for some time.

Not only the big European dredging concerns would benefit, Schlie said, but also many private German firms active all year not only on the Elbe but also on the Weser and Ems.

A start to Elbe dredging will also revive sagging handling over the last year or two in Hamburg itself, said the Port of Hamburg Business Association (UVH).  “The signs now all point to growth for the port”, it said. It described Elbe deepening as “a decisive step forward for infrastructure expansion” and as “an important and positive signal to Hamburg’s international customers”.

In 2000 the Hamburg Senate sought approval for a plan to deepen and, in some areas, widen, the 130kms stretch of the Elbe between Hamburg and the North Sea to cope with ever-bigger container ships. Environmentalists and others objected and blocked the plan despite warnings from the Port of Hamburg and local businesses that Germany’s biggest universal seaport would lose customers.

Following a Supreme Court rejection of objections, and Hamburg’s handling of court-imposed revisions, as well as a last-minute appeal by opponents in December - most in Hamburg now believe Elbe deepening will go ahead and be completed in 2020.

The Elbe is one of Germany’s busiest waterways. Hamburg, 80 kms inland, wants tide-independent access for ships drawing 13.5m and for mega boxships drawing 14.5m at high tide, along with improved passing conditions.

It is estimated that 38.5 million m3 will be dredged and that every incoming ship will in future be able to carry an extra 1300 teus meaning 3m teus a year more in handling for Hamburg.

Project costs have risen dramatically in recent years with a total bill of well over €800 million now expected. Hamburg will pay €286 million while Berlin has pledged €490 million - more if needed - underscoring the high importance it attaches to the project.

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