Rotterdam won’t dismantle historic bridge to let Jeff Bezos’ $500m superyacht pass

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Photo: Remko de Waal/ANP/AFP (Getty Images)

A historic bridge in the Netherlands will not be dismantled for Jeff Bezos’ superyacht, at least for now, after an outcry. As reported in the New York TimesRotterdam will no longer dismantle a nearly century-old bridge to allow Bezos’ new half-billion-dollar boat to leave its shipyard.

In the second largest city in the Netherlands, the iconic bridge spans the city’s main river, the Koningshaven Bridge. The railway bridge is more commonly referred to as De Hef, or the lift to use the English translation. The descriptive nickname was likely earned because it was the nation’s first vertical lift bridge when it was built in 1927.

De Hef has grown in stature and notoriety over the decades to become a landmark in Rotterdam. In 1993, it was planned to abandon the railway line and demolish the bridge. The protests against the proposal were large enough not only to prevent demolition, but also to protect the bridge as a Rijksmonument, a listed national monument. So, unsurprisingly, there was a similar outcry when the bridge was threatened nearly three decades later.

De Hef in the late 1940s, seen from the train tracks

De Hef in the late 1940s, seen from the train tracks
Photo: Dutch Spoorwegen

Last year it was revealed that Jeff Bezos had ordered a half-billion dollar superyacht from nearby yacht builder Oceanco. Rotterdam is the largest port in Europe and there are many shipbuilders in the area. De Hef is also a vertical lift bridge for a reason. Further inland, tall ships must be able to safely cross the Nieuwe Maas River.

However, Bezos’ superyacht Y721 is too big to fit under De Hef. The midsection of the bridge rises to a height of 152.5 feet. The Y721 is not your ordinary miniature cruiser, however. Not only does the ship have sails, but it’s also supposed to be the second largest sailing ship on the planet. The only larger sailing yacht is owned by a Russian oligarch and is currently in the possession of the Italian authorities after being seized in March.

Earlier this year, Rotterdam city officials told local media that the bridge would be temporarily dismantled to allow passage of the completed superyacht. The bridge project was reportedly funded by shipbuilder Oceanco. That’s when a torrential outcry began on social media in opposition. The New York Times reported that a resident of Rotterdam had set up a Facebook event to organize people to urge the Y721 to pass the dismantled De Hef.

In response, Rotterdam Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb denied previous statements about the potential switch. He even said that no decision had been made because Oceanco had never applied for a permit. Without the dismantling of De Hef, there is no way for the Y721 to reach the open sea from Oceanco.

It should be mentioned that the lift span was temporarily removed in the mid-2010s for the bridge to be renovated. However, span removals should not be taken lightly, especially on a protected bridge nearly a century old, because construction accidents do happen. It should not be assumed that De Hef’s lift span could always be retrofitted over the rest of the bridge. A victory for De Hef, so far.

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