Never before was so much equipment deployed on a dredging project as on the Suez Canal expansion. Never before was the time pressure so great and were such high production volumes achieved on a project. In Egypt the scale of the project was even compared to the construction of the pyramids. “Planning, organization and logistics were the greatest challenges,” said Bas van Bemmelen, Director of the Dredging division’s Area Middle.
Exactly on schedule the new Suez Canal was officially opened by Egyptian President al-Sisi on 6 August 2015 amid keen global interest. In just nine months the canal was deepened to 24 meters along a distance of 52 kilometers, its width ranging from 200 to 400 meters. The largest part of the project, the construction of a shipping lane of around 35 kilometers parallel to the existing canal, was executed by a consortium comprising Boskalis and three partners.
“Certainly for a dredging project it was a sizable contract, with a value of USD 1.5 billion for the consortium of which USD 375 million for Boskalis,” said Van Bemmelen. “From day one Boskalis played a leading role in the execution of the project.” With daily production volumes in excess of 1.4 million cubic meters, a total dredged volume of 220 million cubic meters and around 2,000 people of 45 different nationalities involved, the Suez project is unquestionably one of the most impressive dredging works in history. “To compare: Maasvlakte 2 – the large-scale expansion of the Port of Rotterdam – involved 240 million cubic meters over three years,” said Van Bemmelen. “Planning, organization and logistics were the greatest challenges on this project.”
Transports and logistics
The project required the deployment of 21 cutter suction dredgers (including the Boskalis vessels Cyrus II, Phoenix I, Edax and Jokra) and five trailing suction hopper dredgers, of which three belonging to Boskalis: the Coastway, Barent Zanen and Oranje. Over 400 Boskalis colleagues contributed to the project. “The speed with which a huge amount of dredging equipment had to be mobilized in a short space of time was unprecedented. The rush to organize over 50 large transports of dredging units, and the transportation of 80 kilometers of pipeline and an arsenal of smaller equipment was a major logistical achievement for our Mobilization department,” said Van Bemmelen. Boskalis’ many transport capabilities were put to optimum use and a successful attempt was made to combine as many transports as possible. The Dockwise transport vessel Trustee was used to ship five large dredging units from Rotterdam, the Netherlands to Egypt in a single transport. In the course of the mobilization and demobilization Dockwise handled a total of eight transports of dredging vessels and other equipment, belonging both to Boskalis, consortium partners and dredging companies working on other sections of the canal. The transport vessels Dockwise Vanguard, Mighty Servant 3, Black Marlin, Triumph and Tern were deployed for this purpose. An important role was also reserved for our Transport department, which was in charge of supplying the project out of our distribution center in Moerdijk near Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
“The production schedule for the dredging vessels was a complex puzzle. Smart deployment of the dredging equipment enabled us to achieve maximum results. “The overriding factor was the time pressure,” continued Van Bemmelen. “One big worry was whether the local contractors would finish the dry earthmoving in time. Our section of the canal went straight through the Sinai desert, which is 20 meters above sea level in some places. Local companies needed to remove 200 million cubic meters of soil, excavating the site down to a level of 1 meter above sea level before the dredging work could begin. All that material was deposited along our stretch, resulting in mounds of sand 200 meters wide and 40 meters high rising up on either side. These ‘pyramids of sand’ hampered drainage on the sandfill, and the steep slopes made it very difficult for our sandfill crews to lay pipelines. As soon as the local contractors released a site we sprang into action. We saw to it that the sandfills, pipelines and drainage were ready and started the pre-dredge surveys, which had to be completed before the cutter suction dredgers could get to work. Given that the Boskalis survey system had been selected by the consortium for use on the project most of the survey tasks were carried out by Boskalis surveyors.”
80 pyramids of sand
“In all, we moved enough sand to make up 80 Great Pyramids of Giza in barely nine months’ time. That was unprecedented,” concluded Van Bemmelen. “We were able to schedule the work accurately to within a day, and it was a great moment when the last cubic meters were dredged.” The final big logistical challenge was to demobilize equipment, pipelines, spare parts, containers and work stations, and this was completed successfully at the end of October 2015.
Click here to watch the project video of the Suez Canal project.