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The Port of Antwerp, Belgium - Views and Information circa 1909

Belgium, in proportion to its size, possesses one of the most intensely developed systems of waterways of any European country, the total length of main line canals being 1,015 miles of which 900 miles are owned by the State and 115 miles by the Provinces, Communes, or Concessions.

Belgium also possesses a highly developed system- of railways, and it is a great industrial country.

It is said that Belgium is Antwerp, and Antwerp is Belgium. To those who have visited Antwerp and seen the splendid railway approaches and terminals, completed within recent years, and the unexcelled system of quays and docks, all developed within the last half century, the above statement seems none too strong. Within the above period, Antwerp as a port has risen to the commanding position of second place among the North Sea Continental Ports, and in some respects to leadership among the world's greatest ports.

The Port of Antwerp is located on the River Scheldt, at the head of deep sea navigation, about 53 miles from the North Sea, and by means of the highly developed systems of railways and waterways has direct communication with the three adjacent countries, France, Holland and Germany.

The Port of Antwerp is administered, and most successfully too, by the Municipality, through a Harbor Commission consisting of five members selected by the City Council from among its own members with the Mayor as Chairman. The State owns a small portion of the river front and has charge of the policing, lighting, and buoying of the river, the management of the ferries, and the collection of dues.

On account of the State and City being thus jointly interested in the port, there is an advisory commission consisting of nine members, five representing the State, two the City, and two being members of the Chamber of Commerce.

The Port is located wholly on the city side of the River Scheldt, and consists of two entirely distinct parts:

  1. The river port bordered by quay walls and wide quays, and
  2. The interior port consisting of a group of ten locked basins, divided into maritime and barge docks.

At the former river quays, vessels rise and fall with the tide which fluctuates about 13 feet, while at the latter group the water level is constant and not subject to changes in the water level of the Scheldt.

There now are about 12 miles of quays, 92 acres of warehouses, sheds, etc., and 375 acres of water in the various basins, including the River Scheldt. The length of the river quayage is 18,040 feet, and that of the docks, 54,120 feet. An extensive system of railway tracks amounting to 96.88 miles connects the river quays and docks with the railway systems entering Antwerp.

Dock System at Antwerp Belgium

Present Dock System of Antwerp shown in black near C. Present course of River Scheldt A, B, C, D. Proposed "Grande Coupure" (great cut) in river channel A, E, C. Proposed great extension of dock system shown to the right of new river channel C, E, A.

There are 105.7 acres of sheds, mostly of the single story type, and several warehouses and storehouses. Many of the older sheds and some
of the new ones are of the open type, while some of the later ones are enclosed. The new sheds are especially well built of brick, and steel, with rolling doors, and wholly fireproof.

The river quays are appropriated especially for the use of regular lines of steamers and coastwise vessels. They were built at two different dates, and are generally spoken of as the "Old River Quays", and the "New River Quays". The Old Quays were built by the State between 1878 and 1884, but the City of Antwerp provided the sheds and mechanical equipment.

Large Floating Pontoon at Antwerp, Belgium

Large Floating Pontoon.
Similar to the "Prince's Landing Stage" at Liverpool.

At these quays there is a floating landing stage with a movable bridge for passenger service similar to those used upon the Mersey River at Liverpool.

In 1895, by mutual agreement, the State built new quays, 6,560 feet long, beyond the old quays, and here again the City provided the entire equipment. These quays were built upon a more liberal plan than the former ones, as much more room was available for this purpose. The sheds adjacent to these quays cover an area of 18.9 acres and cost $386,000.

Fifty-one "half-arch" cranes handle goods to and from these sheds and vessels. The roof of the sheds at two of the quays are built flat and in the form of a terrace or promenade, from which a splendid view of the river and shipping activities can be obtained.

The following table gives the dimensions of the Antwerp Docks :

Dimensions of Antwerp Docks
Name of Dock Length (Ft) Width (Ft) Surface acres
Bonaparte Dock 492 558 6.3
Guillaume Dock 1,246 492 14.4
Junction on Kattendyk Dock 279 164 1.1
Kattendyk Dock 3,149 459 33.3
Kattendyk Lock Chamber 361 230 1.8
Timber Dock 1,706 492 19.2
Campine Dock 1,148 525 13.8
Asia Dock 2,001 328 15.1
Junction on Lefebvre Dock 377 164 1.4
Lefebvre Dock 31.8
American Dock 16.6
Basin Dock 2,050 820 38.6
Wet Dock, North 1,722 590 24.0

The two new North Docks, the last ones provided, were three years in building, were opened in 1907, and cost $1,447,500, including quays, sheds and the mechanical equipment. They are known as the "Basin Canal" and the "First Wet Dock". Their widths are respectively 820 feet and 590 feet each, and the depth of water is 31.2 feet with provision for deepening it to 36 feet. The closed sheds around these docks cover an area of 3.4 acres, and the open sheds 3.5 acres.

Antwerp also possesses six dry docks which are available for all parties needing such facilities. Dues are charged in proportion to the vessel tonnage and the time the docks are occupied.

The present six dry docks are insufficient, and a new one estimated to cost, with all fittings, over $965,000 was commenced in 1910 and will probably be completed by 1913. This dock will be 722 feet long, and have a waterway of 75 feet.

There are over 156 movable hydraulic cranes of 3,308 and 4,410 pounds capacity scattered over the quays of the various docks.

The City maintains a fleet of tug boats and dredges to assist navigation and to maintain a sufficient depth of water in the river, basins, etc. The amount of dredging in 1909 amounted to 457,800 cubic yards.

There are two principal freight stations, the Antwerp Docks with 96.9, and the Antwerp South and River Quays with 66.5 miles of railroads. Some idea of the tremendous amount of business done at these stations can be gained from the fact that the average traffic of the former station is 3,500, and of the latter, 2,000, or 5,500 trucks arriving and departing from the two stations daily.

That Antwerp has been hard pressed to provide new, enlarged and better facilities fast enough to keep up with the phenomenal growth of the port can be seen from the following tables showing the rate of increase in the commerce of the port :

Sea Navigation
Year Number of Vessels Entered Tonnage of Vessels
1900 5,244 6,691,791
1901 5,209 7,510,938
1902 5,607 8,427,779
1903 5,761 9,131,831
1904 5,852 9,400,335
1905 6,034 9,850,592
1906 6,495 10,884,412
1907 6,284 11,181,226
1908 6,135 11,051,644
1909 6,470 11,940,332


This table also shows the increase in the size and carrying capacity of the vessels entering the Port of Antwerp, for while the number of vessels entered between 1900 and 1909 increased by but about 24 per cent. the tonnage in the same period increased nearly 100 per cent.

Kattendyk Dock

Kattendyk Dock.
3149 feet long, 459 feet wide and 33.3 feet deep.

View of the Grand Basin

View of the Grand Basin

Open Sheds on the River Quays

Open Sheds on the River Quays

South Promenade of River Quays

South Promenade of River Quays.
Furnishing a splendid view of shipping activities on the River Scheldt. Goods pass to and from the ships and open sheds underneath the promenade.

The growth of the Interior Traffic for the same period, follows :

Interior Traffic at the Port of Antwerp
Year Number of Vessels Entered Net Tonnage
1900 32,990 5,503,670
1901 32,765 5,795,027
1902 32,120 6,287,716
1903 33,940 6,964,328
1904 36,077 7,723,062
1905 36,651 8,155,696
1906 38,149 8,406,895
1907 37,302 8,138,864
1908 37,359 8,270,779
1909 39,705 9,003,069

Not content with the recent great improvements of the Port of Antwerp, the officials have now planned extensions so large and so comprehensive in comparison with the present system of docks, as to challenge the admiration of the world. The following from "The Port of Antwerp'', describes the great extensions as planned.

"To enable commerce to expand naturally and continually, the Public Powers have grasped the fact, that, however vast the present installation may be, they must be progressively enlarged and extended.

Over fully a year ago, the extension alone, about 3,280 feet of the Canal Dock, was begun, and also the construction of wet docks Nos. 2 and 3.

These new installations will increase the expansion of the quays and surface of the docks to 18,040 linear feet, and 164 acres respectively. They will involve an expenditure of something like $2,702,000 not including the quay gearing, and will take a good three years time to complete.

Before these works are finally completed, the Government will probably have started excavating the Canal Dock, some 4.35 miles in length by 820 feet in width, and also constructing some immense sea locks at Kruisschans, thus connecting the Canal Dock with the Lower Scheldt by means of a wide waterway.

In three years also from now, the building of the large Dry Dock, previously referred to herein, will be completed.

The wet docks, 9 in number, 656 feet in width by 3,936 feet in average length, are to be constructed by the City, proportionately with the increase in traffic.

The installations for small craft navigation are likewise to be enlarged and improved; a reach of the fortification moats, between the Breda Gate and the Schyn Gate will be arranged in the form of an interior barge dock.

The junction canal between River Meuse and the River Scheldt (the Campine Canal), split into a large section, will flow freely into this new dock, as well as into the Lefebvre Dock, and will, besides, conserve that part of the canal which at present flows into the Asia Dock.

The City has decided to construct a dock for Corn lighters between the two first wet docks. A scheme for arranging a dock for coasting vessels behind the d'Herbouville Quay in the South is under construction.

The various schemes will take ten years to execute, and the following table will afford some figures for comparison :

  Present day Situation Sit. about 1920, after the various works described above have been executed.
Surface of Docks 230 acres 1,260 acres
Length of Quaywalls and Slopes 9.94 miles 31 miles
Area of Sheds 141 acres 840 acres

A shifting station, vast in extent, on the present territory of Merxem is in full course of construction. A large boulevard winding around the new maritime installations will shortly be laid down, and also a "Transporder" bridge, connecting the two banks of the Scheldt, will be constructed over the up-stream.

The plan for the construction of one or several tunnels under the river are being rapidly pushed forward, and the State has decided to improve the ferry communications between the 'Tete de Flandres' and the floating landing stage at the 'Canal au Sucre' by erecting a large lift, specially for hoisting up vehicles to the level of the quay at low tide.

Finally comes the scheme known as 'Grande Coupure' which would change the course of the Scheldt down stream from Antwerp; by it the present winding waterway would be replaced by a much straighter channel."

The "Grande Coupure" or "great cut", provides for cutting a new channel for the Scheldt River across a great bend just below the City. This plan would add a new River Quayage of 28,536 feet to the present River Quayage of 18,040 feet. The new docks will increase the present area, which has taken a half-century to build, by 300 per cent. and increase the quayage from 10 to 31 miles, and all of this work is to be carried out within ten years. After this work is finished, the old bed of the Scheldt, about 2 square miles, is to be converted into a great basin by means of dams, locks, gates, etc.

In view of such wonderful foresight and confidence in the future of the Port of Antwerp, is it surprising that those in charge of the development and management of rival Continental Ports should view such great extensions with more or less anxiety for the future commercial supremacy of the North Sea Ports?

View of Half-Arch Cranes on the South Quay

View of Half-Arch Cranes on the South Quay

Fifty Ton Electric Hoisting Crane on the South Quays

Fifty Ton Electric Hoisting Crane on the South Quays

Cranes on the Campine Dock

Cranes on the Campine Dock

Government Bonded Warehouse

Government Bonded Warehouse

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