Every year, over 15,000 sea-going vessels move through Nieuwe Waterweg. But for some ships, the canal is too shallow. That is why the Port of Rotterdam Authority has started its preparations to deepen Nieuwe Waterweg and the Botlek basin. When you take in the majestic expanse of Maasvlakte 2, you’d almost forget that further inland, Rotterdam has a number of other important port areas. The Botlek area, for example. It is one of the largest petrochemical and chemical complexes in Europe: a vast cluster of oil refineries, chemical plants and storage companies. This is where the petrol your car runs on comes from, but also the sunflower or coconut oil you use for cooking. The ships travelling to Botlek are becoming bigger and bigger, and are carrying more and more cargo. This means that their draught is also steadily increasing. As a result, some vessels can no longer reach their berth at Botlek when fully loaded, because Nieuwe Waterweg is too shallow. And this costs money.
Deepen of lose traffic
The deepening of Nieuwe Waterweg means that in the near future, larger-draught vessels will be able to access the Botlek area. Consequently, the berths and quays along its ports will be deepened at the same time as the canal. This is a very important step, according to Edwin Hupkes, project manager at the Port Authority. “Otherwise we will lose cargo to Antwerp, which can handle ships with draughts of up to 15 metres.” Nieuwe Waterweg needs to be deepened by another 1.5 metres, along a distance of 25 kilometres. The permit application specifies an average depth of 16.30 metres along the stretch between Hoek van Holland and the Benelux Tunnel. The port of Rotterdam’s profile will be raised even further by this project. Edwin: “When ships can transport more cargo at a time, this reduces the costs of trade.” Import and export firms specialising in fuels and oil products in particular stand to benefit from this development. “The shipping companies, the owners of the vessels, opt for ships that can call on a range of ports. They are deepening the Panama Canal as we speak. The extended depth will serve as the new standard. As the port of Rotterdam, we need to anticipate this,” explains Edwin.
The decision to deepen Nieuwe Waterweg and Botlek didn’t come out of the blue. In the lead-up to the project, its potential effects on the environment were researched in an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). The conclusion? The project’s consequences for e.g. salinity, the local groundwater or the river bed will either be limited or can be effectively managed through targeted measures. “The independent EIA committee commended us for the professionalism of our studies,” says Edwin. “Indeed, we did a great deal of research – almost as much as was performed for Maasvlakte 2.”
And now, the team is waiting for the requisite permits – the draft versions of which became available for perusal on 12 May. The Port Authority and the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment are currently examining the financing options. Actual work can only start once this phase has been successfully rounded off. The Port Authority hopes to start on the project – together with Rijkswaterstaat – in late 2016, after the financing structure has been determined. All in all, the deepening of Nieuwe Waterweg will only take 6 months, plus another 6 months for the Botlek port basins. The biggest change for local residents will be a modest increase in the number of ships moving past. Edwin: “But this will be about 50 to 80 ships extra per year, so we’re not talking about a huge increase.”