New technology and expanding markets abroad hold out the promise of a bright future for some dredging contractors. But others see problems lurking which need to be addressed if the sector is to keep its head above murky water.
Van Oord Acz is one contractor taking an optimistic view. Marketing manager Betty Pointer says: 'There has been a great deal of demand for equipment to tackle large scale dredging projects recently, with an anticipated demand from South East Asia, so we have been building new 20,000m3 capacity jumbo hopper trailers to cater for the work.'
This upbeat view is not shared by all. Ham Dredging director Ian Fairgrieve sees problems. 'The industry is in self-destruct mode because nobody is kicking up sufficient fuss about the issue of contaminated waste. We have plenty of ways of removing waterbed contaminants, but there is a lack of recognised local areas for it to be safely disposed of.'
The number of enquiries from potential clients is seen by some as annually fluctuating with the seasons, but some years seem to throw up surprises. 'We traditionally receive the most tenders for reclamation between January and March, but the market has been depressed for the past few months,' says Eco Dredging Systems sales manager David Collins. 'I believe the current lull in demand is affecting everybody involved in dredging, but work is starting to pick up again.'
Jan de Nul (UK) general manager Charlie Oxford sees new types of project opening the way for dredging companies, particularly at the smaller end of the market. 'A lot of beach nourishment and sea defence projects are needed in this country, especially in low lying areas since global warming is raising sea levels. However, there are not very many large scale operations open to us in the UK, because of the decreasing number of large harbour channels to dredge.'