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Kieldrechtsluis, the World’s Largest Lock Opens at Port of Antwerp, Belgium

An aerial view of the Kieldrecht Lock at the Port of Antwerp, Belgium, with in the center, a ferris wheel from which visitors can see exactly how large the world’s largest lock is.

An aerial view of the Kieldrecht Lock at the Port of Antwerp, Belgium, with in the center, a ferris wheel from which visitors can see exactly how large the world’s largest lock is.

On June 10, the Kieldrecht Lock at the Port of Antwerp in Belgium was officially opened by His Majesty the King of Belgium. Other digni-taries present were Ben Weyts, the Flemish minister for Transport and Mobility, Werner Hoyer, president of the European Investment Bank and Marc Van Peel, president of the Port of Ant-werp. The first vessel, the Grande Lagos, from the shipping company Grimaldi entered the new lock on its way into the Waasland harbor area of the port. 

The construction of the Lock of Kieldrecht was led by THV Waaslandsluis, a cooperation between Jan De Nul NV, CEI De Meyer, Betonac, Herbosch-Kiere and Antwerpse Bouwwerken. The contract value for these partners was almost €272 million (US$304 million). To construct the lock, 9,000,000 cubic meters (11,771,555 cubic yards) of ground were excavated, 800,000 cubic meters (1,046,360 cubic yards) of concrete were poured, 1,000 meters (3,280 feet) of pipe works were used and 10,000 tons of reinforced steel piles were placed for the foundation and piling works. Another 12,000 tons of steel constructions were processed in four lock gates and two bascule bridges and more than 3,000 sheet pile screens were placed up to a depth of 12 meters (39 feet). To achieve this required a variety of equipment including excavators, dumpers, bulldozers, rollers, cranes and concrete pumps.

The cutterhead dredge Leonardo Da Vinci working on the construction of the Kieldrecht Lock, which opened in June 2016.

The new Kieldrecht Lock is 68 meters (223 feet) wide, 500 meters (1,640 feet) long and 27 meters (88.5 feet) deep. It connects the Deurganck dock with the Waasland Canal and harbors, giving access to the docks in the port area on the left bank of the Scheldt and ensuring that the Port of Antwerp will be able to remain an important economic asset. 

The entire project was financed through an independent company, NV Deurganckdoksluis, with an investment of €382 million (US$430 million) from the Port Authority of Antwerp and the government of the Province of Flanders. The funds were provided by loans from the European Investment Bank (€€160.5 million, US$180 mil-lion) and KBC Bank (€71.3 million, US$80 mil-lion). In addition, the European Union granted a subsidy of €€5 million (US$5.6 million). The investments in the Kieldrecht Lock to improve the Port of Antwerp is seen as a strategic part of the greater European Trans-European Trans-port Network (TEN-T), which supports sustain-able transportation, job creation and economic growth and cooperation throughout the European Union.

Although much has been made about the opening of the new locks at the Panama Canal, in which the Jan De Nul Group also participated, the Kieldrecht Lock at Antwerp is actually the largest lock in the world. And the Port of Antwerp is the second largest seaport in Europe in terms of TEUs (Twenty Foot Equivalent Unit) – surpassed only by Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

This is no easy feat given the port’s geographical location. To understand the complexity of the Port of Antwerp, the port is situated 80 kilometers (50 miles) inland on the River Scheldt. It is a tidal port, where the differences between high and low tides can vary as much as six meters (almost 20 feet). This can slow down the movement of large container ships, with traffic jams occurring before the entrance to the river and the need for very deep quays. To expedite traffic, over the years, the Port of Antwerp has built numerous locks that lead into a basin where water levels are more stable. The right bank of the port has six locks, including the Berendrecht Lock, which was the largest until the opening of Kieldrecht this summer.

In the 1970s, the port decided to expand to the left bank of the river in an area called Waasland and the Kallo Lock was constructed to give access to the docks in Waasland. It was built with the future in mind and deepened to 16 meters (52 feet) to accommodate the largest container ships. However, by the early 2000s, the Kallo Lock, which is the only access to Waasland harbors, was on overload. 

Continual growth of the Port of Antwerp led to the construction of a new complex of docks, which would not require a lock. In 2005, the Deurganck Dock was opened. It is also tidal, but is at a position in the river that did not require a lock to reach the quay. But even the Deurganck Dock, with a wharf length of 5.5 kilometers (3.4 miles), soon reached its capacity. Ships were forced to line up and wait for the tides to come in.

All this led to plans to expand beyond the Deurganck Dock. This would require a new lock but would open up the Waasland Canal and docking bays to the largest container ships. In 2012, at the far end of the Deurganck Dock, work was started on what has now been named Kieldrecht Lock. 

After five years of planning, dredging and other construction work, the lock – one of Bel-gium’s largest infrastructure projects in recent history – has now been officially opened. The lock has a width of a 19-lane highway, with each lane able to park 28 articulated buses. Visitors to this enormous structure are welcome and they can get a bird’s eye view of the world’s largest lock from a 60-meter (197-foot) high Ferris wheel situated right next to the lock. 

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