As It Happens

Rotterdam may dismantle historic bridge for $637M superyacht linked to Jeff Bezos

A Rotterdam councillor is speaking out after the city agreed to temporarily dismantle part of a historic bridge to make way for a massive yacht reportedly owned by billionaire Jeff Bezos.

'It really has the feeling like there's a different set of rules for people like Mr. Bezos': city councillor

Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, left, has reportedly requested that the city of Rotterdam temporarily dismantle and then reassemble the Koningshaven Bridge, right, so his massive yacht can pass underneath it. (Pablo Martinez Monsivais/The Associated Press, Sebastien Bozon/AFP/Getty Images)

Story Transcript

Rotterdam may partly dismantle a historic bridge to make way for a massive yacht reportedly owned by billionaire Jeff Bezos.

The Dutch city is considering a request by a regional shipbuilding company to remove the mid-section of the century-old Koningshaven Bridge — known to locals as De Hef — to clear passage for a superyacht linked to the Amazon founder.

It's the only way the boat, which is being constructed at the Oceanco shipyard in the nearby city of Alblasserdam, can get to sea. 

"Quite a lot of people are quite mad about it," Coun. Stephan Leewis told As It Happens host Carol Off. "It really has the feeling like there's a different set of rules for people like Mr. Bezos."

A national monument 

De Hef, built in 1927, was the city's first railway bridge. It was taken out of service in the mid-'90s and replaced with a tunnel. Public protests spared it from demolition, and it was eventually declared a national monument and underwent a three-year renovation process that ended in 2017. 

The middle section of the bridge can be raised to allow ships to pass underneath, but apparently not high enough for the superyacht's 40-metre masts. 

Leewis called De Hef "one of [the] great monuments we have in the city" and says should be protected.

De Hef was decommissioned in the mid-'90s and later declared a national monument. (Piroschka Van De Wouw/Reuters)

Earlier this week, Rotterdamn officials told reporters the city had approved Oceanco's plan to dismantle the bridge, sparking backlash among some local residents and lawmakers.

But on Thursday evening, the city walked back that statement and said no such plan has yet been approved.

In an emailed statement to As It Happens on Friday, city spokesperson Netty Kros says the shipbuilder must officially apply for a permit to get the ball rolling.

"After the permit application is submitted, it will be assessed on a number of points," Kros said.

"Consideration will be paid to various aspects, such as economic importance (i.e. employment created by building this ship), possible environmental nuisance, financial consequences (all the costs will be borne by the applicant), and risks that could affect the preservation of the monument."

The Bezos connection

Kros says residents wouldn't have to pay a dime for the project as "the applicant" would be responsible for footing the bill. But the city spokesperson would not clarify whether that refers to the yacht's owner, the shipbuilding company, or both.

Neither the Kros nor Oceanco would disclose who owns the massive unfinished yacht, known as Y721.

But according to Bloomberg News and Dutch broadcaster Rijnmond, it's being built for Amazon founder and executive chairman Jeff Bezos, one of the richest people in the world. 

Aerial footage of the large yacht, known as Y721, in a Dutch shipyard. (Dutch Yachting/Reuters)

Bloomberg estimates the boat will be 127 metres long and carry a price tag of $500 million US ($637,417,500 Cdn).

"It looks like a regular yacht, but then given steroids," Leewis said.

Neither Bezos nor Amazon responded to a request for comment. 

Residents divided 

Proponents of the plan say the construction of the vessel and others like it bring jobs to the country.

"It creates work. I only see upsides," Rotterdam resident Ria van den Vousten told The Associated Press. "If it is paid for and everybody makes some money, don't complain. Don't talk, but act, as we say in Rotterdam."

But not everyone sees eye to eye. Resident Matthias Van Der Wilt told Reuters dismantling the bridge would be "stupid."

"The more money you have, the more power you get, even though it goes against principles of the city," Van Der Wilt said. 

Leewis, meanwhile, says he's worried about setting a precedent. He says his party will officially has the city to deny the permit during a council meeting next week. 

"If Mr. Bezos has this ship, then probably another billionaire will want to have another ship that is a little tiny bit bigger than this ship. Are we going to dismantle this bridge every half a year?" he said.

Written by Sheena Goodyear with files from Reuters and The Associated Press. Interview with Stephan Leewis produced by Chris Harbord.

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