The top twelve dredging developments of 2019

Dredger at work. Credit: Shutterstock

DPC looks at developments that took place over the past 12 months that signal opportunities for the dredging industry in the years to come

Certain global developments prompt seismic change to our society or the way industry works. It might not always be obvious at the time, but in hindsight we can see how an event kicked off a new era – Ford’s Model T, the moon landing, or the invention of computers and mobile phones – these events ended up shaping our future in ways we could not have even predicted. DPC has therefore picked 12 key projects from this year that could have a major impact on our sector.

Some events relate to the growing volume of cargo being transported by sea, which has resulted in ship sizes increasing. The decision made in January 2019 to widen and deepen the Elbe River, Germany, which serves as the access point for the port of Hamburg, has therefore paved the way for bigger ships to transit the water way in future. This will help to boost the port’s business and its standing against competitors such as Antwerp, Belgium, and Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

There, other work is under way to digitise the maritime industry and eventually be able to accommodate autonomous vessels – another key development. Elsewhere, the renewable energy transition is pushed forward.

Such decisions made this year have laid the foundation to future-proof the maritime industry – something that will in the process also present business opportunities for the dredging industry.

Doubtless, the coming year signals a new maritime age with the IMO’s long-awaited – and discussed – low-sulphur regulation entering into force. Some of this year’s events are related to the impending sulphur cap, for example with ports discussing if open-loop scrubbers will be allowed in their waters.

Whether all the developments from this year live up to their potential, all of them are memorable projects that are worth looking back at and taking stock of as the new year approaches.

January 2019

The Port of Hamburg has been granted permission to deepen the River Elbe, the sole, 130 km access channel leading to the inner-city facility with DEME Group’s subsidiaries Nordsee Nassbagger- und Tiefbau and Dredging International doing the works. DEME will deploy trailing suction hopper dredgers, backhoe dredgers, and spreader pontoons for the dredging, transportation, and relocation of about 32 million m³ of material.

Environmental groups argue that dredging will lead to wildlife habitat losses along the river. The dredging of the river is understood to be overdue, with the restrictive depth at low tide resulting in long wait times, limits in the tonnage that can call, and queues of vessels at the North Sea mouth of the river, in parallel with general increases in the tonnage, and draught of vessels.

The work will deepen and, in some places, widen the river, to allow vessels of 13.5 m draught to pass at low tide. Vessels of up to 14.5 m draught, meanwhile, will be able to pass at high tide. The move is expected to afford Hamburg the chance to gain back lost ground against the competing ports of Rotterdam and Antwerp, adding up to about 1,300 teu of capacity per ship.

February 2019

The Port of Rotterdam Authority has launched a system that uses a network of 44 sensors to provide accurate and up-to-date hydro and weather meteo data particularly for the planning and management of shipping.

The delivered system obtains the height of the tide, as well as information on the tidal stream, salinity, wind speed, wind direction, and visibility data and will be combined with prediction models, data from Rijkswaterstaat, and astronomical calculations.

This enables the application to contribute to reductions of waiting times and the optimisation of berthing, loading or unloading, and departure times. The technology allows, for example, to more precisely predict the best time to berth and depart, depending on water conditions, while guaranteeing maximum loads.

For instance, sensors incorporated on and in quay walls, dolphins, waterways, road, and traffc signs generate continued measurement data, and these can communicate with other autonomous systems. This and lays the foundation to facilitate autonomous shipping in the port.

March 2019

Regardless of what the result of the Brexit negotiations will be in the end, the port of Antwerp is confident that talks and preparations that have happened owing to the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union are a chance to reroute trade in Europe and further afield in future.

Each year, more than 16 million tonnes of cargo are handled between the Port of Antwerp and the UK, making the latter Belgium’s second-largest maritime trade partner.

At a roadshow held in London and Birmingham, the port’s representatives talked attendees through its own preparations that have been taking place since 2016, two weeks after the referendum took place.
The preparations for Brexit, also at other European and UK ports, have resulted in “companies reviewing their supply chains”, Justin Atkin, port representative UK and Ireland for the port of Antwerp said at the event attended by DPC.

This includes seeing what other UK ports are available for trade and looking at modal shifts around hinterland connections. This has, potentially the chance to change the UK – as well as European port call landscape in future.

April 2019

Renewable energy consultancy Blix has confirmed that propositions put forward by Dutch power grid operator Tennet who wants to build an artificial grid island in the North Sea, are viable.

The artificial island would act as an energy hub, optimising the power generated by the surrounding wind farms, situated in the IJmuiden Ver wind energy area. They have an estimated capacity of 6 GW, and will be situated about 100 km offshore in the shallow Dutch coastal waters.

The island would decrease the distance between the wind turbines and the shore and maximise the use of cheaper AC connections. DC converter stations would also be operational on the island and minimise the loss of electricity in transmission to the mainland. This would remove the need for costly converter platforms at sea.

Mark de La Vieter, researcher at Blix Consultancy, commented on the recent validation report for the construction of the island, “I predict that in the longer term, island-hubs will be part of the Dutch electrical infrastructure at sea.”

There is also potential for further co-operation between the Dutch and UK governments for development of a UK wind energy area in East Anglia.

May 2019

More than 20 port authorities, including from Japan, South Africa, Greater Wellington in New Zealand, Victoria and South Australia in Australia, and the UAE, have sent approvals regarding the use of open-loop scrubbers in their waters to the Clean Shipping Alliance 2020 (CSA 2020), indicating they have no intention of banning them.

Executive committee members of the CSA 2020 presented scientific evidence to the ports, concluding that the wastewater generated by the exhaust gas cleaning process was within regulatory limits.

General manager of Environment and Sustainability for Oldendorff Carriers and CSA Executive Committee member Christopher Fee said, “After research carried out by Japan’s Ministry of Land, Infrastructure, Transport, and Tourism, Japan has stated it will not ban the use of open-loop scrubbers in its waters and we hope to have more written confirmations in place soon.”

While few worldwide ports have restriction guidelines, the ones that have banned scrubbers outright, are beginning to have second thoughts, claimed the CSA, leaving the impact of the IMO’s low-sulphur regulation for ports open for further debate.

June 2019

The Long Distance Fleet Advisory Council of the European Union has issued a call to freeze deepsea mining in international waters. The moratorium was supported by Seas at Risk and the Deep Sea Conservation Coalition. The move highlights concerns put forward the potentially severe impacts deepsea mining will have on the marine environment and biodiversity.

Mining seabed minerals is essential as they are becoming harder and less profitable to extract on land, yet are vital for electronic products and energy storage. At the same time, demand for minerals continues to grow.

However, setbacks were experienced in 2019 that proved how difficult the deployment of equipment is: Nautilus Minerals, one of the first companies to be involved in deep-seabed mining, announced a working capital deficiency and an accumulated deficit of more than USD366 million and DEME subsidiary Global Sea Mineral Resources’ Patania II vessel launch was delayed earlier in 2019.

Meanwhile, in September 2019, India’s Deep Ocean Mission announced it was set to be launched by the end of the year, making deepsea mining another trend to be watched in 2020 not only for the dredging but also hydrographic industry.

July 2019

Malaysia’s decision to ban sand exports in 2018 – even to neighbour Singapore – highlighted the fact that sand is globally becoming a scarce resource. In July 2019, scientists from the University of Colorado, US, warned that much of sand trade is undocumented.

“Researchers need to establish accounting processes for sand flows in, and sand extraction from, rivers – legal and illegal. They need to bring the scale of the problem starkly to the attention of their peers, the public, and the policymakers. Local sand budgets and measures to promote responsible use must then be developed.”

Relying on local authorities to monitor and control dredged sand is problematic as illegal activity is usually under the radar, and in some cases politicians have been profiting from sand mining themselves (see DPC June 2019 edition).

The World Wide Fund for Nature, which released a report titled The impacts of sand mining on ecosystem structure, process, and biodiversity in rivers, recommends the public uses smartphones to quantify and call out illegal mining. But individual efforts will not be as effective as establishing a global sand database where dredged amounts can be vetted.

August 2019

According to the latest Seafarers Happiness Index report, published by the Mission to Seafarers, crew members on dredgers are the most satisfied in the shipping industry.

The index comes with the disclaimer that there, however, was a very low number of respondents that work on dredging vessels.

The happiest seafarers were from Oceania who totalled an average of 7.6/10. These were closely followed by those from North Asia, with a score of 7.3/10. The happiness of western Europeans has been on the rise over past reports, and this showed again – they scored 6.69/10.

Crews on tankers, bulk carriers, and container ships were all clustered around the 6.3/10 mark, very close to the average happiness level of the index report.

The report also found that crew aboard ferries and cruise ships are the least happy. Thousands of correspondents from around the globe completed the survey, although the majority were mainly from the Indian subcontinent, Southeast Asia, and Europe.

Seafarers aged between 16 and 25 were reported to have the highest happiness levels.

September 2019

Portsmouth International Port revealed expansion plans following the launch of its economic impact report, completed by consultancy Oxford Economics, at a parliamentary reception in Westminster on 4 September.

Using data from 2017, the economic impact of Portsmouth International Port was revealed to be worth:
GBP390 million (USD481 million) to the national economy, for every GBP1 million generated a further GBP1.9 million was sustained elsewhere. GBP189 million to the local economy, for every GBP1 million generated by the port locally a further GBP0.4 million was stimulated through induced and indirect impacts 5,590 jobs – 2,410 of which are in the local area through direct employment and supply chains.

Mike Sellers, director of Portsmouth International Port, said, “We also handle the world’s largest wind blades for a major offshore energy company and play a critical link in the supply chain.

“We have bold investment plans under way to transform the port so we’re in the best position to handle more passengers and freight, while remaining as environmentally conscious as possible.”

October 2019

Milford Haven Waterway, UK, is to become the site of a new tide and wave energy development and engineering hub, thanks to a collaboration between the Port of Milford Haven, Marine Energy Wales, Offshore Renewable Energy Catapult, and Wave Hub.

The development will act as a staging point for new development at a 90 km2 leased site for the commercial deployment of a 100 MW combined wave energy and floating offshore wind array, dubbed the Pembrokeshire Demonstration Zone. If it can be harnessed properly, wave energy offers extraordinary potential with 24-hour renewable energy on offer. With a water depth of 50 m, the Pembrokeshire site is calculated to have a potential of 19 kW of wave energy per metre.

The Pembrokeshire Demonstration Zone will also feature an array of floating wind turbines, which are still relatively scarce on the west coast of the UK mainland, relative to a major presence off the east and north sea-facing coastlines.

Developments of this kind in ports, among others, such as to provide storage areas for offshore installation equipment, show how the port landscape is changing and can have an active influence on renewables pricing.

November 2019

It has been seven years since the New York district of the US Army Corps of Engineers began its mission in response to Hurricane Sandy.

With wind gusts in excess of 120 km per hour and a storm surge that inundated much of the New York and New Jersey coasts, the storm caused more than USD50 billion in damages and gave in insight into the potential damages from a projected increase of more extreme weather events.

The restoration efforts will therefore, enhance areas of resiliency to lower risks from future coastal storms. This will involve construction designed to reduce risk to seawalls, tide gates, floodwalls, levees, and pump stations.

Since 2012, several flood control and coastal emergency projects have already been concluded. The New York district placed millions of cubic metres of sand on beaches in its area of responsibility, and restored dunes and berms to their authorised specifications. Completed were also various coastal storm damage risk reduction projects, engineered beach restoration projects, and repairs to Sandy-damaged navigation channels.

Study focus areas continue to be analysed by the corps for the future protection of the coastline.

December 2019

The US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE), Los Angeles district, has completed a draught integrated feasibility report and environmental impact report for the Port of Long Beach (POLB), California, USA.

The purpose of the study is to identify, evaluate, and improve existing navigation channels within the POLB to improve conditions for future container and liquid bulk vessel operations in the event of vessel malfunction or weather-related events.

The proposed project will see the deepening of existing federal channels and construction of a new federal channel and turning basin by dredging and disposing up to approximately 5.7 million m3 of sediment.

Construction would begin in 2024 and is anticipated to take approximately 39 months to complete.
The proposed project, which will be undertaken jointly by the USACE and the POLB, would deepen the entrance to the main channel, from the approach channel through to Queens Gate, to a depth of -24 m mean lower low water (MLLW), widen portions of the main channel to a depth of -23 m MLLW, and construct an approach channel and turning basin to Pier J South to a depth of -16 m MLLW.