Rotterdam Expansion Tilts against Tough European Economy

Despite the current economic crisis in Europe, container traffic is expected to double by 2030. That’s why four years ago, Queen Beatrix gave Rotterdam the final nod to extend her kingdom into the North Sea to expand Europe's largest harbor—and forever change the shape of the Dutch coast.

Building Maasvlakte 2 is a massive undertaking—more than 40 times the size of the Vatican—but just the type of project the Dutch have honed to a fine art over hundreds of years.

Since September 2008, up to 11 dredgers at a time have been sucking up sand off the Dutch coastline and dumping it in the area where the new port today is taking shape. Maasvlakte 2 is considered the largest maritime construction projects of its kind in the Netherlands in 70 years—extending the Port of Rotterdam by an area equivalent to more than 3,000 football fields.

Next year, when the first phase of the Maasvlakte 2 project is completed, a new harbor stretching 1.8 miles into the sea will have risen 76 feet from the sea floor.

Built at a total cost of $3.6 billion, Maasvlakte 2 is seen as the crown jewel at the entrance of the iconic Port of Rotterdam, Europe's largest and the world's fourth-largest harbor. But Maasvlakte 2 will also forever change the way the port does business.

By 2033, when its four deep-water basins become fully operational the new addition will nearly double the port's current capacity of handling 19 million containers per year to 36 million. It will allow super-sized container ships larger than aircraft carriers to dock around the clock and push Rotterdam's sea traffic from a current 34,000 to an estimated 57,000 ships per year by 2035.

"The Port of Rotterdam will remain a key European transportation hub" in future years, said Rommert Dekker, professor in quantitative logistics at the Erasmus School of Economics at Erasmus University in Rotterdam.

"Because Maasvlakte 2 is designed as a whole new harbor and not built on an existing infrastructure it will have the newest of the new technology available," he told AFP.

It was also specifically designed to handle the new larger container ships.

Over the last decade their capacity has nearly doubled to 18,000 containers, but their size swollen to some 400 metres long and 60 metres wide.

"These ships will need rapid on-and-off-loading cycles—which Maasvlakte 2 can provide," Dekker said.

Coupled with an excellent combination of barges, rail and road infrastructure, Dekker said Rotterdam will continue to outperform ports in Europe.

"In total, we are shifting some 3.8 million cubic meters of sand," said Maasvlakte 2 contract manager Menno Steenman, who oversees the project.

"That's enough sand to pave the road from here to our head office in Rotterdam, some 28 miles away, with a 'wall' of sand 200 meters high."

Last month, Queen Beatrix returned to the site to oversee the closure of the new harbor's 11 kilometre long sea-wall made from rocks and sand which will keep out the rough waters of the North Sea -- an event broadcast live on national television.

Early next year a gap will be opened to connect Maasvlakte 2 with the rest of the Rotterdam harbor, with various phases of the port becoming operational over the next two decades.

© 1994-2012 Agence France-Presse

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