Only at the beginning of the year did the federal government declare the Elbe deepening to be complete, but now it threatens to turn into a fiasco because of the large amounts of silt: the Federal Waterways and Shipping Directorate had already decided at the beginning of the month to increase the navigable water depth of the tidal Elbe from 1st April to December to initially until November 30, 2023 by one meter.
Now its president, Hans-Heinrich Witte, told the weekly newspaper "Die Zeit" (Thursday) that it could take "three to five years" for the river bed to reach the planned depth again through dredging work.
For the Greens it is clear that the Elbe deepening project has failed: "With the ordered reduction of the maximum draft for ships, it is clear that the goals of the 9th fairway adjustment cannot be achieved. Large container ships can only approach the port with a smaller load than hoped for," said Dominik Lorenzen, parliamentary group leader of the Hamburg Parliament, on Wednesday. At the same time, he welcomed the Federal Office's decision. This is technically correct and a logical reaction to years of poor planning and a lack of willingness to cooperate.
Originally, the Elbe deepening, which cost more than 800 million euros, was intended to increase the permissible draft for freighters to 14.50 meters at high tide and to 13.50 meters regardless of the tide. According to the Federal Directorate-General for Waterways and Shipping, there are only improvements in draft of 20 to 90 centimeters compared to the time before the Elbe was deepened.
This means that large container ships have significantly less leeway to transport their goods across the Elbe. The approximately 130-kilometer section between Hamburg and the North Sea is one of the most important waterways in Europe.
The Federal Directorate-General for Waterways and Shipping explained on request that the reason for the restriction of the depths was strong storm surges that followed in quick succession and a lack of headwater as well as the adjustment of the system after the fairway adjustment. This temporarily leads to increased sedimentation. “In the event of extreme, extraordinary events, there are staff shortages. A third dredger is planned for this year,” it said.
Hamburg's Senator for Economic Affairs, Michael Westhagemann, said in an interview with the weekly newspaper: "I was surprised by the federal government's actions. It wasn't agreed with us either." "Honestly, we were not so clearly aware that there were staff shortages in the federal government," said the non-party politician. He offered Transport Minister Volker Wissing (FDP) that the Hamburg port authority would help the federal government and procure a suction dredger, for example.
A spokesman for the Hamburg shipping company Hapag-Lloyd told the German press agency that the restrictions did not pose an acute problem. The routes of the large container freighters have always been designed in such a way that the ships already loaded parts of the cargo in Rotterdam or Antwerp before they entered Hamburg would have deleted. It could become difficult if severe drought leads to low water levels or if a strong easterly wind blows constantly. Then the ships would have to do without containers in the three to four-digit range, said the spokesman.
In order to tackle the problems in principle and to create planning security and clear perspectives for the Port of Hamburg, the Greens are calling for a silt summit in this context, "at which all those involved will look for a way out of this crisis and find sensible solutions for large shipping in the north."