Task force formed to ensure smooth operation of Flemish ports

Summary

To ensure imports continues and security is maintained during the coronavirus crisis, a ports task force made up of Flemish and Dutch representatives will convene regularly

Open for business

A task force has been set up to maintain the smooth operation of Flemish ports during the coronavirus crisis. The aim is to ensure that food and medical equipment continue to pass into the country, and that security measures remain in place, both at sea and on inland waterways.

The Flemish ports have been declared essential infrastructure during the crisis, and so will remain open for business, as far as possible. “We are grateful that the employees of Maritime and Coastal Services Agency, the ports and their partners continue to work in these very difficult circumstances,” said Lydia Peeters, minister for mobility and public works in the Flemish government.

Earlier this week the ports of Antwerp and Zeebrugge brought their partners together for separate meetings to discuss continuing operations during the crisis. Now Peeters has asked the Maritime and Coastal Services Agency to co-ordinate a task force covering all the Flemish ports.

“It’s not enough to take measures for just one port, or for one nautical partner,” Peeters said. “All ports in Flanders must be able to continue operating. Consultation and even closer co-operation are of the utmost importance.”

The Dutch position starts from a controlled contamination, while the Flemish standard is much stricter

The task force meets for the first time today, by conference call, and will reconvene weekly until further notice. In addition to Antwerp and Zeebrugge, it will include senior figures from the Port of Ostend and the North Sea Port, which stretches from Vlissingen in the Netherlands to Ghent in Flanders.

There will also be representatives from the Flemish government, relevant agencies such as De Vlaamse Waterweg, and associations for port pilots and shipping companies. Dutch partners will also take part, including the Rijkswaterstaat (part of the Ministry of Infrastructure and Water Management) and the Dutch Pilot Service.

One problem already identified by the Port of Antwerp is a difference in contact rules applied in the Netherlands and Belgium. “The Dutch position starts from a controlled contamination, while the Flemish standard is much stricter,” it explained. This is a problem when Flemish and Dutch people are working side by side in the same warehouse.

The Maritime and Coastal Services Agency is currently consulting with its Dutch counterparts on an approach that reconciles the demands of the two systems.

Photo: The harbour at Zeebrugge
©Kurt Desplenter/BELGA