Invisible Power, Silent Partner

Port expansion and waterfront development. Coastal protection and tourism along beaches and rivers. Cruise ship harbours. Road, bridge and tunnel connections. The Panama Canal expansion. Offshore gas and oil. Windmills at sea. Remediation of contaminated industrial sites along waterways. Behind the scenes of almost every major maritime infrastructure project stands the expertise and ingenuity of the dredging industry. But for decades the dredging industry has been an invisible power and silent partner – often as part of a consortium – but also because many of these activities occur for the most part underwater, out of sight. In so many words, the dredging industry is often invisible.

Until now. Recently, dredging contractors represented by the International Association of Dredging Companies (IADC) have become more visible and more vocal – at least to their clients, if not the public – as a multitude of major maritime infrastructure projects have come to fruition. Why this sudden shift in attitude?

Dredging is driven by the expanding global economy and sea-borne trade, coastal protection and climate change, the population explosion and need for more land for living, recreation and work, as well as by an increased demand for new energy sources and accelerating environmental concerns. To meet these needs, IADC dredging contractors have invested heavily in R&D, in highly trained personnel and in state-of-the-art dredging ships. Larger dredging vessels with greater capacity and longer drag arms that can reach extreme depths have led to steadily more impressive, and more visible, land reclamation projects.

Starting with the port of Rotterdam’s first Maasvlakte land reclamation in the 1970s, dredging contractors progressed to the Far East in the 1980s and 1990s, most notably Hong Kong’s new airport and container terminals and Singapore’s land expansions. After 2000, concentration shifted to the Middle East, in Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Qatar for instance. In Japan and Australia airports were also built in the sea and all over the world, port expansion has grown exponentially.

These mega-projects have made the virtues of dredging more visible. Simultaneously, IADC member companies are becoming more vocal, promoting their own expertise. Their new technologies have led to more feasible and cost-efficient projects and have opened whole new areas of applications. IADC contractors have also pushed to the forefront in finding environmentally sound solutions. And they are encouraging clients to tap into their know-how and consult them early on. ‘Early contractor involvement’ is a new concept that means taking advantage of the knowledge that dredging contractors have garnered over many years.

The major international dredging contractors are becoming more visible and less silent. Their partnership and advice is being increasingly valued and sought after by the clients they serve, a trend which is mutually beneficial and hopefully will continue to develop.

René Kolman

Secretary General

International Association of Dredging Companies