Europe's largest harbour's 'sea-leg' taking shape
Maasvlakte 2 is seen as the crown jewel at the entrance of the iconic Port of Rotterdam, Europe's largest and the world's fourth-largest harbour.
Four years ago, Queen Beatrix gave Rotterdam the final nod to extend her kingdom into the North Sea to expand Europe's largest harbour -- and forever change the shape of the Dutch coast.
Planned for 15 years, the Dutch monarch's signature was a final requirement to set in motion one of the largest maritime construction projects of its kind in the Netherlands in 70 years -- extending the Port of Rotterdam by an area equivalent to more than 3,000 football fields.
Next year, when the first phase of the Maasvlakte 2 project is completed, a new harbour stretching three kilometres (1.8 miles) into the sea will have risen 23 metres (76 feet) from the sea floor.
Built at a total cost of 3 billion euros ($3.6 billion) Maasvlakte 2 is seen as the crown jewel at the entrance of the iconic Port of Rotterdam, Europe's largest and the world's fourth-largest harbour.
"This project has forever changed the shape of the Dutch coastline," Port of Rotterdam director Rene van der Plas told AFP. "We needed more space and the only way was movement into a westerly direction -- into the North Sea."
But Maasvlakte 2 will also forever change the way the port does business.
By 2033, when its four deep-water basins become fully operational the new addition will nearly double the port's current capacity of handling 19 million containers per year to 36 million.
It will allow super-sized container ships larger than aircraft carriers to dock around the clock and push Rotterdam's sea traffic from a current 34,000 to an estimated 57,000 ships per year by 2035.
-- "Key European transportation hub" --
"The Port of Rotterdam will remain a key European transportation hub" in future years, said Rommert Dekker, professor in quantitative logistics at the Erasmus School of Economics at Erasmus University in Rotterdam.
"Because Maasvlakte 2 is designed as a whole new harbour and not built on an existing infrastructure it will have the newest of the new technology available," he told AFP.
It was also specifically designed to handle the new larger container ships.
Over the last decade their capacity has nearly doubled to 18,000 containers, but their size swollen to some 400 metres long and 60 metres wide.
"These ships will need rapid on-and-off-loading cycles -- which Maasvlakte 2 can provide," Dekker said.
Coupled with an excellent combination of barges, rail and road infrastructure, Dekker said Rotterdam will continue to outperform ports in Europe, he said.
And despite the current economic crisis in Europe, container traffic was expected to grow, Dekker added, saying "even with the lowest growth scenario, container traffic is expected to double by 2030."
-- Massive undertaking --
Building Maasvlakte 2 is a massive undertaking -- more than 40 times the size of the Vatican -- but just the type of project the Dutch have honed to a fine art over hundreds of years.
Since September 2008, up to 11 dredgers at a time have been sucking up sand off the Dutch coastline and dumping it in the area where the new port today is taking shape.
"It started off as a little island in the middle of the sea. If you go there today, you are already standing on a sand dune 14 metres above sea level," Van der Plas said.
"The last time we had a project of this scale and nature was probably the Afsluitdijk," he added, referring to the construction of the 32 kilometre-long dike between the North Holland and Friesland provinces.
Completed in 1932, the Afsluitdijk protects the fresh-water lake Ijsselmeer from the salt water Waddenzee, an inlet of the North Sea. It is still regarded today as a major feat of Dutch maritime engineering.
"In total, we are shifting some 3.8 million cubic metres of sand," said Maasvlakte 2 contract manager Menno Steenman, who oversees the project.
"That's enough sand to pave the road from here to our head office in Rotterdam, some 45 kilometres (28 miles) away, with a 'wall' of sand 200 metres high."
Last month, Queen Beatrix returned to the site to oversee the closure of the new harbour's 11 kilometre long sea-wall made from rocks and sand which will keep out the rough waters of the North Sea -- an event broadcast live on national television.
Early next year a gap will be opened to connect Maasvlakte 2 with the rest of the Rotterdam harbour, with various phases of the port becoming operational over the next two decades.
"Being Dutch and being able to work with sand and water. It's like a boy's dream," said Van der Plas.
Jan Hennop / AFP / Expatica