[Updated] European Court Raises River Dredging Standards

Port of Hamburg

Published Jul 1, 2015 4:21 PM by Reuters

The European Court of Justice (ECJ) ruled on Wednesday that damage to water quality must be considered when authorities approve river dredging to expand ports, in a ruling which could hinder expansion at the German ports of Bremen and Hamburg.

The European Union's highest tribunal raised hurdles for approval of port dredging projects which could harm marine life, saying more consideration must be given to the potential damage to water quality and marine life.

But it did not order a blanket stop on dredging some had feared and port companies said they hoped the judgment would permit planned dredging to go ahead in Hamburg, Germany's largest port. German courts must now make a decision on dredging project applications using the new ruling.

The German ports of Hamburg and Bremen had wanted to dredge rivers to make it easier for new large container ships to reach them regardless of tides, in the face of intense competition from Dutch and Belgian rivals Rotterdam and Antwerp.

Ports have argued that dredging is in the public good as it creates jobs and greater economic activity in their cities, overriding fears about environmental damage. But German environmental protection association BUND had complained to the European Court that a project to dredge the river Weser in Bremen would cause excessive damage to water quality and so damage marine life.

"In view of the overriding public interest the port industry is optimistic that despite the stringent conditions in the water regulations, the deepening and widening of the Elbe will achieve planning approval," the association of Hamburg port operating companies UVHH said in a statement.

Ship sizes have grown from vessels carrying 2,000 to 3,000 standard twenty foot containers (TEU) in the 1980s to up 18,000 TEU today with vessels of 20,000 TEU being built.

"The decision from the European Court today on the appeal by BUND against the deepening of the Weser will strengthen protection of water in Germany and throughout Europe," said BUND Chief Executive Manfred Braasch.

The world's number one container line Maersk of Denmark said: "The ECJ did not rule out dredging of rivers completely, leaving the possibility of exceptional approval open, requiring strong measures of environmental protection."

"In our view, the ECJ ruling has no short-term implications for Maersk Line business."