February 15 - There were plenty of smiling faces in Antwerp on Friday (February 12) as dredging finally got underway on the Dutch parts of the River Scheldt.

As reported on this website previously, dredging on the Flanders side of the river was completed in 2007, but there were delays in the start of work on the Dutch due in part to false misapprehensions about flooding of agricultural land.

The dredging programme which got underway on Friday will increase the maximum permitted draught of ships accessing the port of Antwerp and also lengthen the tidal window for vessels which navigate to the port via the River Scheldt.

Describing the start of work as historic, Antwerp Port Authority CEO Eddy Bruyninckx said: "This dredging programme is extremely important for the port of Antwerp because it will allow us to have a more dominant position in the schedule of the biggest container vessels calling north-west European ports."

A treaty entitled "Development Sketch 2010 for the Scheldt Estuary" signed on 21 December 2005 between the Netherlands and Flanders lays down that the navigation channel will be widened and deepened so as to increase the tide-independent navigation from the present draught of 11.9 m to 13.1 m. 

In nautical terms a keel clearance of 12.5 percent has to be allowed on the Scheldt on the Dutch side. This means that under the terms of the treaty the Scheldt will be deepened to a level of 14.70 m at average low spring tide. The keel clearance includes a margin for the squat effect (the fact that ships under way have a greater draught), plus a safety margin for ship movements under wave action, a margin for sudden silting up between two soundings and a dredging tolerance.

The work is expected to be completed within 12 months.