Adjustment of the navigation channel on the Lower and Outer Elbe

Adjustment of the navigation channel on the Lower and Outer Elbe

On 9 February 2017 the Federal Administrative Court in Leipzig announced the decision in the procedure concerning the fairway adjustment of the river Elbe. The judges have expressly underlined the necessity for the adjustment of the fairway. The navigation channel will be adjusted. With its judgement, the court has clarified the most essential questions in the lawsuit. Now Hamburg and the Federal government need to extend the process.

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Hamburg is Germany’s largest seaport and as such an indispensable element of its logistics infrastructure. Around 9 million containers are handled annually in the Port of Hamburg. About one-third of these remain as local cargo in the Metropolitan Region, the remainder are transported throughout the Federal Republic and the European hinterland. Hamburg is accordingly of importance, not just nationally but throughout Europe. The Port of Hamburg is also a significant factor for the German national economy in creating jobs. Nationwide around 260,000 jobs depend on the port, and in the Metropolitan Region around 150,000 do so.

The Port of Hamburg’s growth prospects remain absolutely positive. If its competitiveness is to be maintained and its extraordinarily good prospects for development fully exploited, it is essential that ever-larger ocean-going vessels – primarily containerships and bulk carriers – should be able to call the Port of Hamburg without forfeiting cargo or facing long delays. That makes the state of the expansion of the Port of Hamburg’s access from the sea of absolutely crucial importance.
 

Current state of the navigation channel

Mega-containerships and bulk carriers deployed worldwide meanwhile have drafts that as a rule exceed the maximum at present permissible on the Lower and Outer Elbe. This applies especially to the containerships on the East Asia trade route that is of such importance for the Port of Hamburg.

Ships can currently arrive at and leave the Port of Hamburg under the following conditions (based on a target vessel with 300 m length, 32 m width and 13.50 m draft):
  • Arrive irrespective of the tide: max. 12.50 m draft*      
  • Leave irrespective of the tide: max. 12.50 m draft*
  • Arrive depending on tide: max. 14.80 m draft*
  • Leave depending on tide: max. 13.50 m draft*
    *in seawater
On the Lower Elbe between Glückstadt and Port of Hamburg ship encounters, or the passing of two ships, are only possible when their combined width does not exceed 90 metres.
Today, passing possibilities for large vessel are limited on the Lower Elbe between Glückstadt and Port of HamburgToday, passing possibilities for large vessel are limited on the Lower Elbe between Glückstadt and Port of Hamburg
Current state of the navigation channelCurrent state of the navigation channel
 

Target state of the navigation channel

After dredging of the navigation channel on the Lower and Outer Elbe ships should be able to call and leave the Port of Hamburg under the following conditions (based on a target vessel with 350 m length, 46 m width and 14.50 m draft):
  • Arrive irrespective of the tide: max. 13.50 m draft*
  • Leave irrespective of the tide: max. 13.50 m draft*
  • Arrive depending on tide: max. 15.60 m draft*
  • Leave depending on tide:  max. 14.50 m draft*
    *in seawater
In places, widening the navigation channel is at least as important as deepening it. The growing number of mega-ships shows that depth limits are above all a commercial handicap for shipping companies that have to forfeit cargo to and from Hamburg. Restriction of ship’s widths constitutes a general nautical challenge: On the section before Hamburg, vessels with a combined breadth of more than 90 metres cannot meet in the navigation channel with its width of around 300 metres.

As part of the deepening of the navigation channel, this is to be widened to 320 metres, and between Wedel and Wittenberg also be extended by a ‘meeting box’ around seven kilometres’ long.  A width of 385 metres is planned for the navigation channel there.
 
Widening the navigation channelWidening the navigation channel
Target state of the navigation channelTarget state of the navigation channel
 
Enlargement measuresEnlargement measures

Enlargement measures 

The expansion measures for the navigation channel of the Lower and Outer Elbe basically consist of dredging of insufficiently deep sections of the navigation channel and a partial widening of the channel. About 40 percent of the navigation channel is already naturally adequate in depth. No dredging is required there.  Adjustments of this kind, incidentally, are not a feature special to Hamburg, but the norm in conditions near the North Sea ports.

The top goal of business in the port is that in future, irrespective of the tide, ocean-going vessels should be able to leave Hamburg with 13.50 metres draft and when using the flood tide, with 14.50 metres draft. To achieve that, the Elbe navigation channel in the German Bight is to be deepened from 16.98 to 19 metres, and from the junction of the North and South Elbe (river kilometre 626) to Container Terminal Altenwerder (river kilometre 619.5) from 16.70 to 17.40 metres.
 
 
Sediment managementSediment management

Sediment management 

It is beyond dispute that large ships have an unbeatable CO2 balance compared to trucking and rail. Yet all that can only function if waterways are free. Therefore Hamburg, like most ports of the world, has to remove sediment from port basins and waterways. Background: The Elbe is a natural system constantly carrying along tons of sediment. This sediment reaches Hamburg from two different directions: from the North Sea with the flood tide and from the Upper Elbe with upstream water. This sediment deposits in flow-reduced areas of the tidal Elbe, such as the Port of Hamburg.
 
To ensure the target depth of the navigation channel throughout and to enable ships to continue to reach their destination, every year Hamburg Port Authority (HPA) and the Federal Waterways and Shipping Administration (WSV) shift several million cubic metres of sediment. The bulk of the material is harmless and can be put back in the water at a suitable place. Therefore Hamburg has two different options: at proven areas near “Tonne 3” (Buoy 3) at the North Sea and at island Neßsand in the River Elbe. A small part of the sediment from the upper reaches has attracted too many pollutants on its way to Hamburg and must be treated ashore and safely disposed of.
 
The partners HPA and WSV have initiated a process of dialogue with neighbouring states, counties and district councils, fishery, tourism and water sports along the Lower Elbe as well as with environmental and commercial bodies on a new sediment management scheme: www.dialogforum-tideelbe.de (only available in German language). Common developed results are the basis for a more sustainable sediment management. The intention is to reduce sediment volume and its contamination. In December 2016 the “Forum Tideelbe” (Forum Tidal Elbe) has been started – a new initiative of different stakeholders for the common sustainable development of the tidal river Elbe. The “Forum Tideelbe” builds on the solution approaches of the previous dialogue forum and has the goal to realize projects to shape the Lower Elbe in a natural way and thus to reduce the sediment volume in the direction of Hamburg. The main work steps of “Forum Tideelbe” as well as documents and intermediate results will be published on an own website, 
 

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