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Germany Widens Canal Connecting North and Baltic Seas

The German government has announced plans to widen and dredge the Kiel Canal in the northern state of Schleswig-Holstein.

A large ship on the canal

The canal is a major thoroughfare for ships in northern Europe

The complete canal -- with a length of almost 100 kilometers (62 miles) -- will be deepened by a meter, to 10.5 meters in depth, thereby providing ships of up to 280 meters with easy passageway to the Baltic Sea. The announcements were made on Monday, May 19, by German Transport Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee.

The Kiel Canal -- known in Germany as the Nord-Ostsee-Kanal -- links the North Sea with the Baltic Sea, thereby making it an extremely important passageway for ships. Opened in 1895, it was originally intended as a means of easy access for the German navy. No longer did they have to depend on Danish and Swedish goodwill for access via the Kattegat, the only natural entry to the Baltic Sea from the North Sea.

Nowadays, the Kiel Canal is the world's busiest man-made waterway, and 100 million metric tons of goods travel through it every year.

"The Kiel Canal is already being used more than the prognoses for the year 2015 foresaw," Tiefensee said. "In order to relieving our roads of traffic, we need to move even more cargo over to environmentally-friendly ships."

Major fuel saver

The canal is considered a major fuel saver for ships bound to Russia, Poland, and other eastern European nations. By avoiding a long detour via the Danish Skagerrak straits, "goods originating at North Sea ports can be shipped to northern and eastern European markets faster and more efficiently," Tiefensee said. "This will increase the attraction of environmentally-friendly shipping."

He added that, as a first step, the easternmost 20 kilometers of the canal would be dredged in order to handle deeper-draught freighters.

"By doing this, we're setting a clear signal for German seaports on the North and Baltic Seas," he continued. "We're strengthening our shipping competitiveness, both domestically and internationally. This will result in fewer traffic jams, and, at the same time, people will be burdened with lower CO2 emissions and noise pollution. Ships keep increasing in size on an international scale. By doing this, we're making it possible for ships with a length of 280 meters and 33 meters width to continually travel through the Kiel Canal."

Currently, the locks at either end of the canal are too small to handle very large vessels.

Dredging the easternmost part of the canal won't come cheap though, with an attached price tag of 140 million euros ($218 million), while the whole project is slated to cost a further 280 million euros.

At the moment, plans to complete the first segment are scheduled for 2014, with the complete Kiel Canal to follow in 2018.

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