IT WAS a long time coming but the saga of Antwerp’s River Scheldt access deepening has ended with a positive court ruling for the Belgian hub port, Eur0pe's second largest.
The decision last week by the Dutch Council of State, overturning the freeze on deepening work in the western Scheldt, received a warm welcome from the Antwerp port community. "The decision means that dredging will be able to start in the shortest possible time," said a joint statement from the Antwerp Port Authority and Alfaport Antwerpen, a federation of five industry associations employing over 22,000 people directly.
The western Scheldt is a key access artery for Antwerp, linking it to the North Sea. The problem has been that a dozen dredging hotspots lay within Dutch terri- torial waters. iFlanders in Belgium has already completed the work on its side of the border within the agreed time limit.
Approval for the dredging work, which will see a minimum draught of 13.1m and extended tidal windows for 14,000teu boxships, has dragged on because of persistent legal challenges from Dutch environmentalists.
Antwerp Port Authority said that the Dutch court decision reinforces its view that deepening of the navigation channel can be done without damage to the environment.
It said: "ln particular, the deepening work does not mean that reclaimed land will have to revert to flooding, contrary to what is frequently but incorrectly asserted.
‘Accessibility, nature conservation and flood protection are the three foundations of the long-term vision for the Scheldt estuary developed jointly by Flanders and the Netherlands. "The most advanced methods for dredging and spoil disposal will be used, so that the dredging work can go hand-in- hand with nature restoration? Some on the Belgian side harboured suspicions that Dutch tardiness to resolve the situation had more to do with prolong- ing the advantage enjoyed by Rotterdam.
One could almost hear the champagne corks apopping at Antwerp when the irrevocable Dutch court ruling was announced. "This deepening of the navigation channel will enable Antwerp to defend its position as Eur0pe’s second—largest port, in the face of competition from Rotterdam and Hamburg," added the joint statement.
“The benefits of the deeper channel will be reinforced by the new upstream and downstream navigation regulations for the Western Scheldt, introduced by the Permanent Commission for Supervi- sion of Scheldt Navigation in December 2009. "The new regulations permit the largest containerships to reach the port of Antwerp in a safe manner even more easily. This V easier access is one of the key elements of the Total Plan for a more competitive port being developed by the Antwerp public and private port community?
Once the deepening work has been completed (the works will take between 18 months and two years), seven out of ten ships that are currently tide-dependent will be able to reach the port of Antwerp without tidal constraints.
Politics have played a large role in the Scheldt deepening saga, but Antwerp is keen to ensure that future good relations with the Dutch are maintained. Said the statement: “The Antwerp port community hopes that the good neigh- bourliness and mutual trust that until now were tested by the attitude of the Nether- lands will once more be fully restored.
"The port community will seek in the first place to restore relations with the Province of Zeeland and the towns in the Zeeland flood protection region, and to maintain dialogue with them in an open and permanent manner. “Specifically, the Port Authorities will start by inviting _Queen's commissioner Karla Peijs and chairman of the flood pro- tection region Ian Lonink for discussions in the next few weeks."