Rotterdam avoids dismantling a historic bridge so that a Jeff Bezos superyacht can pass

Some of the most famous bridges in the world, from the Rialto in Venice to the Golden Gate in San Francisco, feature in history books and tourist guides. In the port of Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, there is one that had gone almost unnoticed by the general public. Nicknamed De Hef (The Elevator) and built in 1927, it is considered a symbol of the Dutch city’s industrial heritage. It is a national monument, and its sudden fame is due to the fact that in the end it will not be dismantled to allow the large yacht whose commission is attributed to the American businessman Jeff Bezosfounder of the Amazon company and one of the richest men in the world, with an estimated fortune of 145,000 million euros, according to Forbes. After long discussions and much criticism, Oceanco, the firm that builds it, has decided to refrain for now from requesting the corresponding municipal permit so that the ship can reach the sea by that route.

De Hef is what they call the bridge in Rotterdam, but its official name is Koningshavenbrug, which roughly translates to King’s Harbor Bridge. The works of the yacht are in the hands of Oceanco, a builder with an open shipyard in the Netherlands, whose owner and president is the businessman Mohamed al Barwani, from Oman. The luxury ship is about 127 meters long, has three masts and is priced at around 500 million dollars, according to the Bloomberg agency. The problem is that it does not fit under the bridge in question, which has a free height of about 46 meters and whose central part rises and falls: that central section would have to be dismantled for this. “I’m sorry, we have nothing to say on the matter”, is the telephone response to EL PAÍS from the department of marketing of Oceanco, opened in Monaco. “With superyachts it is usually almost impossible to confirm the identity of the owner, but it ends up leaking through agents or intermediaries,” explains René Quist, director of the maritime newspaper Schuttevaer.

A view of the Koningshavenbrug bridge, known as ‘De Hef’, in March 2022.Thierry Monasse (Getty Images)

Due to the commotion caused, it is not clear where the construction will end or how the yacht will reach the open sea. “Oceanco has communicated to the Consistory that for the moment he will not ask for the permit because he fears the reaction of the public, because there was a misunderstanding about whether a monument like this could be dismantled,” Quist continues. He refers to the fact that, since 2017, Rotterdam City Hall is willing to consider — under strict conditions and only twice a year — removing the central part of the bridge. The municipal will responds to a request from other port shipyards unrelated to the Bezos case, which in turn build increasingly larger ships, but the current conflict has precipitated things.

On the one hand, it is true that there has been a campaign of rejection on social networks, calling on the residents of Rotterdam to throw eggs at the ship if it passes through the bridge. A petition against the changes that should be made even collected nearly 50,000 signatures on-line. On the other hand, there is also the desire of the City Council to preserve the jobs generated by high-end shipyards such as Oceanco. Since the costs of the bridge operation are borne by the builder, last February a municipal permit was considered for this company. In a quick twist, the notice was clarified shortly after by the mayor of Rotterdam in person, the Social Democrat Ahmed Aboutaleb. He remembered that it was necessary to request a license first, something that had not happened, and the situation stalled. This June, the Dutch newspaper Trouw He explained that he had asked the authorities for official documents on the matter in the name of the Right of Access to Public Information. He thus confirmed that Oceanco did indeed fear possible outbreaks of vandalism, and its employees felt threatened. The Consistory has not responded to calls from this newspaper on the matter. “Now there is calm. Large yachts are built in Rotterdam and many pass through the port without any problems,” says Quist.

Erected to facilitate train traffic, De Hef was the first structure restored after the bombing of Rotterdam in May 1940 in World War II, and also one of the first to be restored afterwards. In 1928 he already appeared in a tape titled the bridgeof Dutch filmmaker Joris Ivens, which made it a metaphor for modern urbanism. Although it lost its function in 1994 when a railway tunnel was opened, the demolition plans were stopped due to citizen protests. For the inhabitants, it symbolizes the engineering works that give the city its appearance, the modernization that they entailed and the post-war strength. In their advertising, Oceanco indicates that they provide a vision of “the superyachts of the future and the freedom they can offer”.

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Rotterdam avoids dismantling a historic bridge so that a Jeff Bezos superyacht can pass