Kiel Canal Expansion World's Busiest Artificial Waterway Set to Grow

The Kiel Canal, which saves ships headed for the Baltic Sea from a detour around Denmark, is to be expanded. Soon, even the largest of freighters will be able to travel the world's busiest artificial waterway.

The Kiel Canal is the busiest artificial waterway in the world.

The Kiel Canal is the busiest artificial waterway in the world.

Quick quiz: It's the busiest artificial waterway in the world and saves cargo ships huge detours as they travel to ports abroad. Now it is to be expanded. Which canal is it?

If you said the Panama Canal, you're wrong. The correct answer is the Kiel Canal, which cuts straight across the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein, linking the Baltic Sea to the North Sea and saving ships the 520 kilometer detour around Denmark. Now, the German government has announced plans to expand the waterway in an effort to make it passable for even the largest of cargo carriers.

The project, which will be carried out in two phases between 2009 and 2014, includes plans to both deepen and widen the canal. Parts of the waterway will also be straightened to make navigation easier. A computerized navigation system was introduced earlier this month. The total cost of the project is estimated at €130 million and will be covered by the federal government.

Last year alone, the canal was traversed by 42,557 ships with a total cargo load of 88 million tons -- not including sail and motor boats. But at the moment, no ship longer than 235 meters and wider than 32.5 meters is able to pass through the 100 kilometer long canal. Modern-day cargo ships, though, are often as long as 280 meters. "The preparations are underway," says project manager Jörg Brockmann. "We're sailing with a tailwind."

Not everyone, though, is quite as happy with the way things are progressing. "We've been in discussions with the federal government for months to speed up the expansion," Regional Transport Minister Dietrich Austermann told the Hamburger Abendblatt. "It is simply absurd that the planning and preparation process is taking longer than the construction of the entire Kiel Canal in the last century."

The canal opened in June 1895 after eight years of construction. In September an average of 113 ships a day passed through the canal.



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