(Recasts, updates share price)
By Reinhard Becker
LEIPZIG, Germany Feb 9 Dredging the river Elbe
in Hamburg to enable new generations of container ships to reach
Germany's largest port can go ahead, the country's top
administrative court ruled on Thursday.
Green pressure groups had lodged a legal complaint against
the plan, arguing the environmental impact of dumping mud and
sand on fragile coastal wetlands would be devastating.
Hamburg wants to make it easier for massive container ships
to reach its port regardless of the tide to counter intense
competition from Rotterdam, Antwerp and Bremerhaven.
Despite the river having been deepened six times already,
some of the largest ships face a costly wait for high tides to
dock in Hamburg and the city fears shipping lines will switch to
other ports if the Elbe is not dredged further.
The court ruled that although parts of the planning process
were incorrectly handled and broke planning law, this should not
delay Hamburg getting consent to dredge the river.
However, it did say the authorities could improve their
dredging plans to protect the environment, especially a type of
marine plant which grows in the river.
Shares in Hamburg port terminal operating company HHLA
fell 11.3 percent following the ruling.
The city of Hamburg and federal waterways authorities want
to dredge about 130 kilometres of the river so that ships with
14.5 metres draught can reach the port, against 13.5 metres now.
Ships have grown from carrying 2,000 to 3,000 standard
twenty foot cargo containers (TEU) in the 1980s to carrying up
to 18,000 containers and vessels of 20,000 TEU are being built.
(Writing by Paul Carrel and Michael Hogan; Editing by Maria
Sheahan and Alexander Smith)