Photo of the week: Lock and load


A 2,500-ton lock gate has been hoisted out of the water in the port of Zeebrugge so that technicians can carry out major renovation

19-hour operation

A spectacular operation took place this week in Zeebrugge, as a giant lock gate was lifted out of the water and hauled away for repairs. The gate is the size of a quarter of a football field and weighs 2,500 tons.

The works on the gate are part of major renovations at the Pierre Vandamme lock, the crucial access point to Zeebrugge’s inner harbour. It was removed by the Gulliver, a floating crane vessel that can lift several thousand tons. The operation took six weeks of planning and lasted 19 hours, beginning at 3.00 on Monday morning.

Technicians will remove molluscs, silt and other material from the surface of the gate. Several mechanical parts will be replaced, new fixtures will be installed and it will be repainted to prevent corrosion. The repairs are expected to take more than a year, with the gate due to be reinstalled in September 2021. In the meantime, the lock remains operational thanks to the remaining three gates that make up the lock system.

Work was carried out under strict security measures in light of the coronavirus. Shipping traffic was interrupted and no road traffic was able to use the bridges over the lock. “It’s fantastic that these works have not been delayed by coronavirus and that the operation could take place today,” said Lydia Peeters, Flemish minister for mobility and public works.

The government of Flanders is investing a total of €120 million in the renovation. Every year, around 8,000 ships pass through Zeebrugge and the port accounts for 10,000 jobs.

Photo: Belga/Kurt Desplenter

Port of Zeebrugge

The port of Zeebrugge is a relatively young seaport. With many car manufacturers using the port as a distribution turntable, it’s a market leader in north-western Europe in roll-on roll-off traffic of new cars.
Cargo - The port primarily handles unit loads (containers, new cars and trailers) as well as more conventional cargo (fruit, wood pulp).
Accessibility - The port connects to the inland waterway network through the Boudewijnkanaal and the Ghent-Bruges-Ostend waterway.
Monster cruise - The largest cruise ship to ever dock at a Flemish port was the 15-deck Independence of the Seas. It came to Zeebrugge in 2013.
1 985

major port expansion works

28 000

direct and indirect port jobs

695 000

tonnes of freight handled annually