More canal cash as delays raise hackles

Fifth lock takes shape, but slowly Fifth lock takes shape, but slowly
Industry Database

More cash has been approved for improvements on the Kiel Canal as differences simmer over the pace of construction on a new fifth lock in Brunsbüttel at the Elbe end of the waterway.

The German Parliament granted a further €21 million to the Transport Ministry for renovation of the 97km waterway, which is 120 years old this year.

Linking the North Sea and the Baltic, it is the busiest man-made waterway in the world. Some 32,600 ships used it last year carrying nearly 100 million tons of cargo. That would have been even higher but for constant breakdowns and accidents at ageing locks which have disrupted traffic in the last few years.

Estimated total costs for lock renovation and the construction of a fifth lock in the south at Brunsbüttel – the focus of concern - have risen from €273 million in 2008 to €485 million, approved by the German Parliament last year. A further €265 million has been approved for improvements, now underway, on the northeastern stretch of the waterway. Shipping officials told Maritime Journal however that over the coming years the Kiel Canal would need about €1.5billion to make it fit for the future.

The first ship is expected to pass the new 360m x 42m lock in Brunsbüttel in 2020, the Transport Ministry says. A symbolic first sod was turned in 2012 but progress has been slow since then and there has been criticism of building delays. They came to a head this year with reports of differences between the shipping and waterways authority (WSD), which is responsible for the project, and the consortium building the facilities. It groups Holland’s Royal BAM and German subsidiaries Wayss & Freytag Ingenieurbau and Wayss & Freytag Spezialtiefbau.

The WSD was quoted as saying construction had been halted and that the excavation of the main lock chamber had still not started. As of early September, reports said, pilings had been sunk, the area cleared and construction equipment readied for operation.

In exclusive comments to Maritime Journal however Brunsbüttel shipping and waterways official Thomas Fischer said mid October the reports were not quite correct. There had been no halt to construction, he stressed.

He said work was continuing but that progress at three points had been delayed by technical issues which needed clarification. They included quality demands on the jet stream pilings, as well as the clearance of silt in which old wartime ordinance might be expected and technical details concerning the sinking of trench supports.

The delays were however likely to be absorbed over the next few years. “It is still our intention to see the first ship through the new lock in the last quarter of 2020”, he told Maritime Journal.

By Tom Todd

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