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Boskalis Signs Deal to Dredge Uruguayan Martín García Channel

On September 15 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, executives from the Rio de la Plata Administrator Commission (CARP) sign a contract to dredge the Uruguayan Martín García channel.

On September 15 in Buenos Aires, Argentina, executives from the Rio de la Plata Administrator Commission (CARP) sign a contract to dredge the Uruguayan Martín García channel.

Dutch dredging company Royal Boskalis Westminster N.V., through its Uruguayan subsidiary Boskalis International S.A., signed a deal with the Rio de la Plata Administrator Commission (CARP) to dredge the Uruguayan Martín García channel. Dredging began in October and should last six months. 

The contract, signed on September 15, aims to recover and keep the navigability of the deep waterway that cut through the otherwise shallow Rio de la Plata at 9.75 meters or (about 32 feet). The Martín García channel is the entry to the Uruguay River. Its counterpart, the Emilio Mitre channel, accesses the Paraná river from the Buenos Aires entrance channel.

Seen by the Uruguayan government as stra-tegic, the project, which is overseen by CARP, a bi-national commission of Argentina and Uruguay, was worth $14 million USD. 

According to the Uruguayan government, Boskalis is using two large trailing suction hop-per dredges: the 2,130-cubic meter Flebo and the 7,350-cubic meter vessel Werner Mobius.
The re-dredging of the Martín García channel was one of the most politically sticky projects involving the two countries. As previously reported by International Dredging Review (IDR), Argentina has resisted re-dredging the Martín García channel, despite expanding the Mitre channel, which it has sole control over, to 34 feet, encouraging many ships to detour through that channel because of its greater capacity.

For over a decade, Uruguay has been eager to dredge the Martín García to a greater depth, but it took a while for the two neighboring countries to mutually agree on the subject. However, in January this year, Argentinian president Mauricio Macri and the Uruguayan leader, Tabaré Vazquez, agreed to abandon the obstacles that were preventing the waterway from being re-dredged since 2013. The signing of a contract with Boskalis to keep it at 32 feet is as a step forward not only to keep the channel navigable, but also to make it competitive.

“We’re well,” said Dr. Felipe Michelini, the president for the Uruguayan delegation at CARP. “Boskalis started recovering [the Martín García channel] to 32 feet and they’ve got six months to do it, guaranteeing the security for operators that use the river.”

“We’re giving operators a signal we’re serious about [the Martín García waterway.] Domes-tic companies couldn’t dredge the channel, so we opened up a tender, signed a contract with a company, which later rescinded the deal, but then, in two months, we invited Boskalis,” the executive said, while explaining the process by which the project had to pass through.

Jan de Nul’s owned Sudamericana de Dragados participated in the same tender, but the project was awarded to Boskalis, which offered the cheapest price.

Optimist, Michelini said CARP is “con-vinced” it will “soon” open a new tender to dredge the Martín García to 34 feet and to 38 feet at the channel’s hard bottom.

He said the new bid to deepen the channel to 34 feet should be released within the six-month timeframe Boskalis has to dredge the Martín García. “It should last five years, which could be prorogated for five more years,” he detailed.

Over the last century, the waterway has been periodically dredged to various depths, but some sections were so narrow that only one ship could pass at a time, causing long waits for passage. 

In the 1990’s CARP hired a private consortium to expand and then operate the channel at a depth of 32 feet. That consortium, made up of seven international dredging companies, fell apart during the operation/maintenance phase, when Uruguay and Argentina failed to make payments during a recession. 

Riovia S.A., a subsidiary of Dutch dredging giant Boskalis International B.V., used to maintain the channel from 1998 to 2013. 

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