Press release / 25 March 2024

Dredging destruction; worldwide research into Dutch dredgers

Dredging Destruction: Report reveals how Dutch dredging companies are systematically destroying human lives and the environment around the world with the help of taxpayers’ money

The Netherlands is providing billions of euros in support for dredging projects by Boskalis and Van Oord around the world. All of these projects are destroying human lives and the environment. The Dutch government’s policy to protect people and planet is failing systemically. And after twelve years of studies and talking, there are no real improvements. It is time for a thorough clean-up of government support for the dredging sector.

These are the hard conclusions of the report, ‘Dredging Destruction’, which was published today. The report presents the findings of a joint international study by civil society organizations from the Netherlands and countries where the dredging companies are active. The organizations describe the negative consequences for people and the environment of twelve years of export support for dredging projects in seven locations around the world. Their message to the Dutch government is: “Stop support for three ongoing projects immediately.”

Partners respond

“In the north of Mozambique, fishing communities are being forced to relocate far from the sea. At the same time, there are terrorist attacks, and the area is completely unsafe. That makes fishers and farmers victims twice over”, says Julio Ernesto of farmers’ union UPC, Mozambique.

“The coral reef system in the Maldives is our natural line of defence and source of life. But Boskalis is dredging it to death”, says Humay Abdulghafoor of the Save Maldives Campaign.

“Dredging companies are making profits by destroying the natural environment. Ecosystems off the coast of Jakarta are being damaged and the rights of small-scale traditional fishers are being violated,” says Martin Hadiwinata of EKOMARIN, Indonesia.

“Dredging has a direct impact on food security of fishing communities”, adds Simone Lourenço of Forum Suape, Brazil.

Systemic issue

The Dutch government supports companies with projects abroad by providing export credit insurance via Atradius DSB. In the past twelve years, 32% of this financial support - €8.4 billion – has gone to dredging companies, Boskalis and Van Oord, who together account for almost half of the worldwide dredging sector. Dredging projects have a great impact on land and water, and therefore on the people who live, grow food, or fish there. Atradius DSB and the government are obliged to check whether the dredging activities are harmful for people, wildlife, and the environment.

But that is going wrong, and it is a systemic issue. Due to terrorist attacks, for example, Atradius DSB staff had to conduct field research in Mozambique from a helicopter and wearing bulletproof vests. “That must set off a very loud alarm bell that everything is not okay,” says Niels Hazekamp of Both ENDS. Yet, Atradius DSB and the government found that the project could go ahead. An independent enquiry later concluded that Atradius DSB had not assessed the security situation in Mozambique correctly. “They did not listen sufficiently to warnings from local organizations and their own embassy.”

Thorough clean-up of policy

“We have no objection to foreign companies doing business here and making profits, but they must do it honestly and fairly,” says Muhammad al Amin of environmental organization, WALHI, in Indonesia. “We want to see a fundamental change in policy and practice. The government and companies must, for example, ensure that local people are genuinely heard and participate in decision-making.”

Jon Bonifacio of Kalikasan PNE from the Philippines adds: “This report is a clear indication of the scale of the ecological and social disruption caused by the lack of regulation of the Dutch dredging sector all around the world. We call on policymakers in the Netherlands, the Philippines and other countries to take our demands seriously and hold companies and institutions that are guilty of malpractice liable for the environmental and human rights violations of dredging projects.”

Completely against international standards

The Netherlands has signed important frameworks that promote corporate social responsibility, biodiversity and sustainable development. The export support for dredging projects goes completely against these international standards. The government should ensure that its export policy is completely in line with its pledges to protect human rights and the environment.

Stop supporting ongoing projects immediately

The civil society organizations also call for a complete withdrawal of government support for three projects currently underway in Mozambique, the Philippines, and the Maldives.

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