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Small victory leads to future defeat

Published on July 6th, 2022

When it was first reported in Scuttlebutt, Amazon founder Jeff Bezos was connected to a new build called Y721, which was understood to be a three-masted schooner that at 127-metres would become the world’s largest sailing yacht when delivered.

But its newsworthiness went negative when the delivery route would require the dismantling of a notable monument. However, in a report by autoevolution, it now appears that the “no star” reviews have had an impact… for now.

Under construction at Oceanco in the western Netherlands, the controversy broke in February 2022 when word got out that Oceanco Shipyard had filed a petition asking that Koningshaven Bridge be dismantled to allow Y721 passage to sea trials.

The bridge, known as De Hef among Rotterdam residents, is a decommissioned railroad bridge that was also the first monument restored after the Nazi destroyed most of the Rotterdam city center in WWII. Aside from its historic importance, it is widely regarded as a symbol of rebirth and resilience.

De Hef may be all these things, but what is certainly not is tall. Or, at least, it’s not as tall as Oceanco would need it to be: Y721, once completed, will be the world’s second largest superyacht and the largest sail-assisted yacht ever.

As one, it has masts – three of them – measuring 70 meters (230 feet) in height, while De Hef only provides a 40-meter (131-foot) clearance. Oceanco said that taking the hull without masts under the bridge, and assembling it once the bridge was cleared was too costly. It offered to pay for the dismantling and reassembly of the bridge.

The people of Rotterdam were not pleased.

The dismantling of the bridge was comparatively cheap (some $100,000, peanuts to the $500 million total cost of the megayacht) and it was only a day’s affair, but the mere act of it stood for something else: their government giving in to some rich dude whose megayacht builders did not consider the low clearance of the bridge ahead of the actual build.

It spoke to them of lack of respect and, ultimately, the abyss that separates the world’s richest from regular people. So, they opposed it.

The dismantling of the bridge was politicized: some said that history and national heritage should outweigh Bezos’ financial pull, while others pinpointed that The Netherlands, and Rotterdam in particular, was the capital of the maritime industry. Thousands of jobs had been created by Y721 alone.

The issue even caused unrest among citizens – one of them went viral for his suggestion of a protest rally where they would pelt the megayacht with rotten eggs as it passed by. If it passed by.

After some time of relative quiet, a recent expose by the Financial Times revealed that the issue was far from over. Oceanco’s petition was still “ongoing,” and sources within the Rotterdam administration said that the shipyard must have some unwritten agreement with the city because, otherwise, why would they start building such an expensive vessel if they didn’t have a sure way of getting it out to sea?

While the answer to that question may not be revealed, whatever was happening with Oceanco doesn’t matter anymore, because the shipyard has decided to halt plans for the dismantling of the bridge.

For now, local publication Trouw informs that documents filed with the municipality, which they obtained through a freedom of information act, mention the social unrest and security fears as reasons for the decision.

In other words, Oceanco heard what the people were saying and didn’t like it. They also feared retaliation from citizens (and even mentioned that their staff’s safety was at risk), so they are no longer asking for permission to bring down De Hef for the vessel to pass.

The FT report mentioned that Oceanco’s plan B was to take the hull under the bridge and the masts on a separate trip, and then assemble everything at another location closer to the sea. The latest round of documents doesn’t say whether this is now officially plan A, but it’s probable. Y721 is scheduled to begin sea trials in August.

But maybe this isn’t a victory for the people of Rotterdam, or at least, not the one they expected. The Trouw report mentions this at the end: “An agreement has now been drawn up with shipyards in the Rotterdam region. The intention is that, should De Hef be dismantled, it will go out twice a year for a maximum of three weeks. First, a permit must be applied for.”

That is to say, the Y721 controversy has set a precedent, and it might have exactly the result the people of Rotterdam were hoping against.

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