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Rotterdam to dismantle part of historic bridge so Jeff Bezos’s massive yacht can pass through

A picture shows barges docked on the Koningshaven waterway near the “De Hef” lift bridge and the Koninginnebrug drawbridge in Rotterdam. (SEBASTIEN BOZON/AFP via Getty Images)

Rotterdam has agreed to temporarily dismantle part of its historic Koningshaven Bridge so that Jeff Bezos’s 417-foot-long, three-mast yacht can pass through the waterway sometime this summer, according to a spokeswoman for the city.

The Dutch company Oceano has been building the massive vessel for an estimated $500 million in the nearby city of Alblasserdam. Once completed this year, the ship, known as Y721, will be the world’s largest sailing yacht, according to Boat International.

But to reach the open seas it must first pass through Rotterdam — considered the maritime capital of Europe — and the city’s historic steel bridge, locally known as De Hef, which has a clearance of just over 131 feet.

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Originally built in 1927, De Hef was a railway bridge and the first of its kind in Western Europe, with a central span that could be lifted to allow ship traffic to pass underneath. It was decommissioned in 1994 after being replaced by a tunnel, but later declared a national monument. The bridge underwent a major restoration from 2014 to 2017, after which the city said it would not be dismantled again, according to the Dutch broadcaster Rijnmond, which first reported on the yacht agreement.

A bridge in Rotterdam is being dismantled temporarily to make way for Amazon founder Jeff Bezos's new superyacht. Bezos also owns The Washington Post. (Video: Reuters)

Although the exact plans, timetable and costs have not been set, Oceano and Bezos will pay to dismantle the bridge, Rijnmond reported.

Frances van Heijst, the Rotterdam municipality spokeswoman, confirmed by phone that the city would not be footing the bill. She said the shipbuilder bears the cost of hiring a company to carry out the bridge’s deconstruction and reassembly, but that she could not provide an estimate or breakdown of the cost as “a lot of details need to be worked out.”

Representatives for Bezos and Oceano did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

Bezos, estimated to be one of the world’s richest people, owns The Washington Post. Last year, he stepped down as chief executive of Amazon, the online retail giant he founded.

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Van Heijst said by email that the city agreed to remove the middle part of the bridge after receiving the request and weighing the economic costs and benefits.

“On the one hand, [there is] the economic importance / employment due to the construction of this ship,” she said. “On the other hand, our concern for De Hef.”

Were permission to dismantle the bridge not provided, Oceano would likely have to sail a half-finished yacht under De Hef and then complete construction elsewhere.

“From an economic perspective, we attach great importance to preserving employment,” van Heijst said.

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Marcel Walravens, a municipality official working on De Hef related issues, told Rijnmond that he considered the removal of the middle part “maintenance” as afterward the bridge would be restored to its original form.

Others are more concerned.

“Jobs are important, but there are limits with what you can and should do with our industrial heritage,” Ton Wesselink, the head of a local history society, Historisch Genootschap Roterodamum, told the website Dutch News.