The MSC Regulus, with a draught of 15.7 m, successfully entered the Port of Antwerp in the first of six trials for a programme to incrementally increase the port’s draught from 15.5 m to 16 m.
The current maximum draught of the Western Scheldt river for container ships calling at Antwerp is 15.5 m, and the call of MSC Regulus broke the draught record at the Deuganck Dock.
Rob Smeets, chief operations officer at the Port of Antwerp, said: “We are extremely enthusiastic about this successful trial run and the new draught record.
“For our global economic position, the vital supply of our country and the prosperity of present and future generations, it is essential that we can receive the very largest seagoing vessels and that they can choose Antwerp as their first port of call.”
To ensure that the port will be ready to receive the largest container ships in the future, the pilot project will see the maximum permissible draught at the port’ inlet to be gradually increased from 15.5 m, to 15.7 m, via 15.9m and finally 16 m.
This increase in the permitted draught considerably increases the loading capacity of the ships and the extra five decimetres could yield a +/- 1,000 teu gain.
Annick De Ridder, port alderman, said: “If ships with a bigger draught can call at the Port of Antwerp, the port can raise its profile even more in the Far East, where the biggest ships sail, and strengthen its position as a first port of call here too.
“This will help to strengthen our competitive advantage over other ports and perpetuate our position as a world port.”
The pilot project is a collaboration by Port of Antwerp, the Flemish pilots from the Flemish Agency for Maritime Services and Coast (MD), the Dutch pilots, the Common Nautical Management (GNA), traffic controllers and MSC.
The inlet for deep-sea vessels is determined by the tide where there is a ‘time window’ during the higher water level which allows deeper vessels to embark or disembark.
Calculation of the time windows and simulations have shown that shipping with a draught of 16 m is effectively possible on the Western Scheldt river.
The three progressively deeper draughts will be tested by both Flemish and Dutch pilots and, after each draught test, there will be a detailed assessment and a discussion of the findings.
Nathalie Balcgen, administrator-general of the Agency for Maritime Services and Coast, said: “Years of experience, nautical expertise and strong collaboration across national borders are making these trial runs possible and increasing economic prosperity in Flanders.
“The nautical chain is becoming more and more robust and is – successfully – pushing the boundaries of what is safely achievable.”
A final evaluation will follow after the six trial runs and a final decision will be taken for the passage of ships with a draught of 16 m.