Wagenborg Passenger Services is a division of Royal Wagenborg and has been transporting hundreds of thousands of visitors to the Dutch Wadden islands of Ameland and Schiermonnikoog every year for almost a century. Each year, an increasing number of passengers take the boat to and from Ameland: 1,200,000 passengers in 2015. With so many passengers and 100,000 islanders making the crossing to the mainland each year, you expect a service you can rely on. Unfortunately, the crossing is increasingly encountering delays. This is an undesirable situation which, understandably, a lot of people find annoying and which has to change. Wagenborg passenger services would like to find a solution for the delay and, to this end, has commissioned various studies to find the cause.
Fighting a losing battle
The dredging of the navigation channel is essential because of the silting and meandering but, according to the municipality of Ameland and Wagenborg, insufficient dredging has been carried out by Rijkswaterstaat under the direction of the Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment. Although dredging work has increased from a few times per month to 365 days a year since 2005, this still does not appear to be enough. The navigation channel does not have the required width and depth, which means that the ferries do not displace enough water and can no longer sail at full power. In addition, the navigation channel becomes very narrow at low tide, which can result in hazardous situations when ferries pass each other.
Cutting off the bend as a possible solution
The Minister of Infrastructure and the Environment, Ms Schulz van Haegen, has responded to the problem of the navigation channel by sending a letter to the Dutch parliament. The Minister believes that cutting off a bend from the navigation channel is a possible step towards reducing the delays between Holwerd and Ameland within a reasonably short timescale. Cutting off a bend will reduce the ferry route by 850 metres, which will result in a gain of about 3.5 minutes. However, the Minister states this time gain is not enough to solve the problem of delays completely.
Upgrading the navigation channel
Wagenborg Passenger Services argues that it would be even better to upgrade the existing navigation channel and cut through it in three places. This would make the new channel straighter and a good 18% shorter. A shorter route would have the effect of reducing gas emissions in the World Heritage site. The flow rate would also increase in a straighter navigation channel, which would probably ensure that the channel would naturally retain its depth better. This would require less dredging, which would be combined with reduced costs for Rijkswaterstaat and less disruption of the environment. In addition to these undeniable benefits, this upgrade of the navigation channel would reduce delays by 48%!
While Minister Schulz does not rule out this solution, she emphasises that it does not fall within the scope of the Key Planning Decision (PKB) on the Wadden Sea. The vulnerability of the nature reserve also means that the impact has to be closely monitored. This PKB would have to be revised if the navigation channel was shifted or cut through, which only the Dutch parliament can do.
Open plan process
All the options will be developed in detail in an open plan process. The Minister expects the results to become available in 2016. This should show how the delays can be tackled on a permanent basis. What is certainly clear is that the longer it takes, the greater the maintenance costs and the delays will be. It goes without saying that Wagenborg Passenger Services will do everything in its power to make every crossing as safe as possible and minimize delays.