The siltation of North German rivers by sediment from the sea is a growing problem. It is most evident again and again on the Lower Elbe, because it restricts the arrival and departure of large ships to Germany's largest seaport, Hamburg. However, the siltation also affects Bremerhaven on the Outer Weser, Wilhelmshaven on the Jade and the ports on the Ems.
The topic has been a constant dispute between the five German coastal states for years. Hamburg, in particular, has to repeatedly haggle for support from Schleswig-Holstein and Lower Saxony in order to gain scope for transporting sediment from the Lower Elbe. Lower Saxony recently caused trouble in Hamburg because the coalition agreement of the new red-green state government in Hanover describes the ninth Elbe deepening as "ecologically failed" - in view of the recent significant increase in sediment volumes in the Lower Elbe. At the same time, Lower Saxony is blocking Hamburg from spending sediment on an area belonging to the Hanseatic city near the North Sea island of Scharhörn from next year.
But the petty federal struggle could soon come to an end. "Our goal is that from autumn 2023 we will be able to use a new, central federal transfer point in the exclusive German economic zone (AWZ), initially with sediment from the Lower Elbe," said Lower Saxony's new Economics Minister Olaf Lies (SPD) on Friday in Hamburg. . The conference of economics and transport ministers from the coastal countries had previously discussed the question of sediments, among other things. Lies did not name the exact location of the new shipment point. It is likely to be close to the German Bight, but the flow characteristics must be such that the silt does not drift back towards the river mouths, or does not do so quickly. Structures such as the increasing number of offshore wind farms must also not be impaired.
“We need a real ecological sediment strategy. The federal states are closing ranks," said Lies, who was the last environment minister in Lower Saxony and had previously been the state's economics minister. After similar suggestions from Schleswig-Holstein and the port industry in the past few days, Lies also suggested using sediment from the rivers in the future, for example for dyke construction. To do this, however, you first need large, suitable storage areas to dry the silt and examine it for possible gifts.
Hamburg is currently negotiating with Schleswig-Holstein about an extension of the sediment shipment to buoy E 3 near Heligoland. The existing contract expires at the end of the month. "I'm assuming that Hamburg and Schleswig-Holstein will agree on the shipment of sediment in the short term," said Hamburg Senator for Economic Affairs Michael Westhagemann (independent). He is also “confident” about the intended national solution in the EEZ. Climate change is contributing to the increase in sediment in the Lower Elbe, for example, due to stronger storm surges, but also due to lower water intake from the upper reaches of the Elbe, which naturally washes part of the silt out of the river again: "In almost all ports the world is becoming increasingly loaded with sediments.”
In order to accelerate the expansion of offshore wind power, the economy and transport ministers of the coastal states signed an appeal together with the shipbuilding association VSM and the trade union IG Metall. According to the call initiated by Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania, it is about a "turning point" and a significant strengthening of the German shipyard industry so that the tasks of the coming decades can be mastered.
In the past decade, the differentiated and strongest offshore wind power industry in the world was based on the German coasts. After the federal government had slowed down the expansion of offshore wind power in the German part of the North and Baltic Seas, most of the offshore industry at German shipyard locations disappeared again. But now, according to the federal government, the existing German offshore capacity is to be expanded from currently around eight gigawatts to 30 gigawatts by 2030 and further to 70 gigawatts by 2045. Without a new, strong offshore industry also in the German coasts this is impossible.
In their appeal, the ministers call for a public framework for financing the construction period for large offshore structures, for national and European value-added quotas and funding programs to be enshrined in federal laws, for incentives to build climate-neutral commercial ships and for the conversion of ships that are already underway, and for public procurement to be strengthened. "Trade policy deficits in European shipbuilding policy" would also have to be eliminated.
“The North speaks with one voice. The federal government is called upon," said Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania's Economics Minister Reinhard Meyer (SPD) in the presence of the federal maritime coordinator, Claudia Müller (Greens). “The maritime industry and the associated suppliers and service providers must be preserved due to their systemic importance. The industry plays a key role in both climate policy and security policy changes.”