For all its trumps as a deep inland location, the port of Antwerp faces one major challenge: the river Scheldt is subject to a constant process of sedimentation. At a distance of 70 km from the mouth of the Scheldt in Flushing, large seagoing vessels can only reach Antwerp thanks to an ongoing effort of maintenance dredging. Increased environmental awareness has modified the dredging process – particularly by limiting turbidity and overflow. In addition, deep knowledge of the dynamic equilibrium of the river system has resulted in a more sophisticated approach of dredging.
Since the latest deepening campaign in 2010, a constant depth of minus 13,1 m is guaranteed, independently of the tide. Maintenance dredging is carried out in a joint-venture of which DEME companies are a part.
The port of Antwerp can currently be served by the largest Ultra Large Container Ships (ULCS’s) with a draught up to 16 m (tidal windows applying).
Over the years, a lot of innovation has been applied both in hardware, software, and crew training. Better software and training allows for increased efficiency, lower dredged volumes, diminished cost of dredging per volume, environmental awareness, better accountability.
Although the majority of the dredged sand is kept in the tidal system in order to maintain the dynamic equilibrium in the estuary, a significant volume is beneficially used every year for various applications: hydraulic reclamation of the polder areas, reinforcement and raising the dikes within the framework of the protection programs against flooding, etc.
DEME considers the maintenance dredging on the Scheldt to be a ‘nursery’ for innovation and a training ground for their crew.