(Updates with cargo outlook in fourth paragraph.)
Dec. 13 (Bloomberg) -- France’s port of Rouen, Europe’s largest grain-export hub, will dredge the shipping channel in the Seine River over the next four years to allow the inland port to accommodate vessels as big as 58,000 metric tons.
Regional authorities approved the works after negotiations that started in 2007, Francois Henriot, a port spokesman, said by phone today. The first phase will involve deepening the river from its mouth on the English Channel to an Exxon Mobil Corp. refinery about 25 kilometers (16 miles) upriver.
The dredging works will increase the channel’s navigable depth by 1 meter to 11.7 meters (38.4 feet), allowing access of handymax and supramax sized vessels, according to Henriot. The budget is 185 million euros ($242 million), he said.
Dredging the shipping channel may allow Rouen to attract almost 10 million tons of cargo a year, according to an e- mailed statement from the port. It expects its second-best year in 2011, after a record in 2010, with more than 24 million tons of cargo handled as of Dec. 7, Henriot said.
The port, France’s fifth-biggest, now mostly receives vessels of 25,000 to 30,000 tons. Enlarging the shipping channel will benefit transport of oil products as well as agricultural commodities, according to the spokesman. Societe de Dragage Internationale and Entreprises Morillon Corvol Courbot won a tender for the first phase of the project, using a dredging vessel from Belgium’s Dredging Environmental & Marine Engineering NV.
Draft constraints typically limit grain cargoes loaded in Rouen to about 40,000 tons. The port lost business in the first half of 2010 when Egypt, the world’s biggest wheat buyer, demanded cargoes between 55,000 and 60,000 tons be loaded at a single port, before dropping the demand in July that year.
The port will issue several tenders for further stages of the dredging project, deepening the river from the mouth to Rouen, 120 kilometers upstream, according to Henriot. The works will last from 2012 to 2015, he said.
Rouen this year handled 11.5 million tons of liquid bulk, 10.5 million tons of solid bulk and 2 million tons of other cargoes, including containers, according to Henriot. Grain transshipment as of Dec. 7 was 7.2 million tons of cereals, compared with 9 million tons in 2010.
Exxon Mobile operates a refinery at Port-Jerome, near the town of Notre-Dame-de-Gravenchon.
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