Widening channels and building new industry at Rotterdam

Inland barge using the Breeddiep Channel with widening work continuing beyond (Peter Barker)
Inland barge using the Breeddiep Channel with widening work continuing beyond (Peter Barker)
The new offshore quay under construction here will be 500m long in total (Peter Barker)
The new offshore quay under construction here will be 500m long in total (Peter Barker)

Port of Rotterdam currently has two projects of interest under way, widening a narrow channel used by inland shipping and constructing a deepsea quay for a new development to build offshore wind farm components.

The two parallel waterways leading to Rotterdam, Nieuwe Waterweg and Calandkanaal are separated by a spit of land and breakwater west of Rozenburg. Around 3km from the seaward end a narrow channel, the Breeddiep is used by around 50,000 mainly inland vessels annually avoiding the longer passage around the end of the Spitsingdam. The 75m wide channel involves sharp turns requiring precise judgement in strong tidal currents and the channel is now being widened by PRA to 300m, retaining the existing depth of -8m NAP.

Work has been entrusted to Van Oord in two stages. Initially traffic will continue using the existing channel while a new ‘temporary Breeddiep’ is excavated in the Spitsingdam 80m to the west. Once this phase is complete, planned for August, vessels will use the new route with the old channel closed off. Phase two involves widening the old channel eventually to be merged with the temporary one.

An interesting aside to this story is where excavated material is being re-used in the new Green Gateway project along the Nieuwe Waterweg. The project is a partnership between: World Wide Fund for Nature, Rijkwaterstaat, the Municipality of Rotterdam and PRA and involves construction of an eco-friendly river bank near Rozenburg.

Concrete bases from old parking meters and other waste have been used so far and the idea is to develop a new natural ecosystem involving sheltered lee areas to help reintroduce or restore flora and fauna. An additional advantage is where it will enhance the water defence system along the Nieuwe Waterweg.

Returning briefly to the Breeddiep widening, navigation through the channel itself, either through the existing route or the partly completed new channel will remain unaffected until the new 300m wide channel is completed, scheduled for late 2016.

NEW DEVELOPMENT AT MAASVLAKTE 2
Activity at Rotterdam has historically been based around cargo handling and logistics. Natural and man-made connections with Europe’s hinterland place the port in an ideal position for transhipment of all varieties of commodities and cargoes, import and export. It is natural for such intense concentrations of trading activity to attract a vibrant associated maritime cluster living off the back of that sector and an indication of the opportunity is in figures of over 29,000 sea-going vessels and 110,000 inland vessels calling at Rotterdam in 2015.

Rotterdam’s support industries have mirrored the progress of the offshore oil and gas industry over several decades, the port particularly well positioned close to activities in the North Sea. Notwithstanding the development of this area of maritime industry, it has always been the handling of cargo which dominated activity at the port but the area of ‘offshore’ is now finding itself firmly back on the agenda again. An indication of the pursuit of attracting this very specialist industry is PRA’s ten-year agreement with Allseas Engineering BV to host the giant platform decommissioning and pipelaying vessel Pioneering Spirit.

Like many ports situated in heavily built-up areas, Rotterdam faces problems when expanding to accommodate growth but the recently completed Maasvlakte 2 port extension has provided opportunities to explore alternative activities and an area previously only having a negligible role in Rotterdam is about to become an area of activity, that of offshore wind.

While activity with offshore oil and gas in the North Sea is declining, offshore wind is now an established growth area and Sif Group and Verbrugge International have teamed up to build a dedicated offshore terminal and production site for offshore wind turbine monopile foundations at Maasvlakte 2 under the name Offshore Terminal Rotterdam.

As turbines and their associated components increase in size the old arrangement of construction inland and subsequent transport by road and inland waterway has become increasingly problematic, the favoured approach now being to locate such production facilities ideally at a deepwater port with close access to the sea for transportation onwards or loading directly onto installation vessels. A lot of boxes are immediately ticked with the selection of Rotterdam for such a facility.

Sif has 65 years of experience in the production of steel tubes and their new plant is currently being built on a site covering 42 hectares at Maasvlakte 2. PRA is building a 400m long deepwater quay for seagoing vessels and a 100m long quay for inland vessels, Van Oord BV and Hakkers BV are contracted to build the barge quay with Dimco, TBI Infra and Dredging International constructing the 400m deepwater quay. There will be a depth of -16.5m NAP alongside for jack-up vessels and -19.5m for other vessels.

Sif and Verbrugge are setting up a joint venture to bring together the logistics and production of offshore foundations based on each company’s expertise in their respective field and the venture will create a production site where monopiles can be manufactured with a diameter of 11m or more. The possibility of handling other elements of offshore wind farms including the turbines themselves has been stated along with hosting other players in for example the oil and gas industry. Sif expects to start producing piles, transition pieces and other products in the second half of 2016 and if all goes according to plan Offshore Terminal Rotterdam will become fully operation at the end of 2017.

By Peter Barker

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