Radical Changes to Shipping Routes Take Place in the North Sea
Port of Rotterdam as seen from the North Sea
On August 1, 2013, a change to the shipping routes in the Dutch part of the North Sea commenced. This is the world's most intensive route change at sea, so far. Rijkswaterstaat, the Dutch transportation and infrastructure ministry, has taken this initiative to optimize and improve the accessibility of the main ports and use the space in the North Sea more efficiently. They also took the safety of shipping into consideration when drafting these changes.
The North Sea is a system of highways, but for shipping. Thus, there are separate waterways for through traffic from north to south and vice versa and waterways to the ports of Amsterdam and Rotterdam. Ships can park at sea in the so-called anchor areas.
The North Sea is one of the busiest seas in the world. The main changes are as follows:
A new Traffic Separation Scheme (TSS) − already in force in Rotterdam − will be introduced in the approaches to IJmuiden. This will ensure that vessels sailing in opposite directions have their own sea lanes.
Routes will be located farther from the coast
Routes will intersect each other less often
Anchorage areas will be relocated or abolished
Space around objects (platforms, etc.) will be configured differently
‘Areas to be avoided’ and ‘precautionary areas’ will be introduced.
Vessels will no longer be allowed to sail in ‘areas to be avoided’, while vessels sailing in ‘precautionary areas’ will be explicitly advised to navigate carefully.
The route changes also leave contiguous areas free for other functions, such as the generation of wind energy.
Rijkswaterstaat, together with the Rotterdam and Amsterdam port authorities and promoters of offshore wind farms made a proposal for new shipping routing. The International Maritime Organization (IMO) approved the Dutch plans on November 29, 2012. The IMO ensures that participating countries agree to make shipping as safe and environmentally friendly as possible. The Coast Guard, the Hydrographic Service, the pilotage, ship owners, the Association of Captains and fishing and mining organizations are involved in the changes.
The new routes began on August 1, 2013, 2:00 pm local time. Converting to the new lanes is a complex operation that should be done in a few days. In recent months, national and international users of the North Sea were informed of the upcoming modifications. Furthermore, nautical charts were updated in June. On July 30-31, all buoys in the North Sea shifted to indicate the new shipping routes as well.
To accompany the changes, Rijkswaterstaat will deploy additional ships to monitor the area. Also, the local Coast Guard is ready to assist from the sea or the air.