Jeff Bezos vs. the bridge: Rotterdam’s dilemma about the billionaire’s superyacht

Jeff Bezos faces an obstacle before he can sail the world’s largest superyacht, commissioned by Amazon’s founder for $ 500 million: the Koningshaven Bridge in Rotterdam.

Oceanco, the Dutch manufacturer of a 417-foot boat codenamed Y721, is seeking permission from the city to temporarily dismantle the central part of the 95-year-old bridge, known locally as “De Hef”. This will allow the three 70-meter masts of the yacht to pass through the port of Rotterdam from the nearby shipyard where it is being built.

The request has sparked a fierce debate among locals, prompting them to tackle global inequality and the power of technology billionaires. A proud working-class city is left with a dilemma: what is the real cost of paving the way for the richest man in the world?

“Shall we bow our heads?” Jeff Bezos just to give him my pleasure boat? “said Paul van de Laar, head of the history department at Erasmus University in Rotterdam.” Was this city built to ensure that billionaires could have a good time? “

City officials insist the application process for dismantling the bridge continues, adding that no official permission has been requested. An official decision is expected this month, with the ship ready in August.

Oceanco’s backup plan is to assemble the mast after passing the hull – it remains unclear why Bezos does not use this option.

Paul van de Laar with the Koningshafen bridge in the background
History professor Paul van de Laar: “It’s an emotional issue. Emotions are important ‘© Marco Hofsté / FT

Two people with direct knowledge of the discussions suggest that there is a tacit agreement between the town Rotterdam and shipbuilder. They said the city could allow De Hef to be dismantled for short periods once or twice a year so that large boats could be safely crossed for an approximate fee of 100,000 euros.

“It doesn’t make sense to start building a $ 500 million ship without prior approval, otherwise you have a $ 500 million problem in your hands,” said one man.

Bezos’ representatives did not respond to requests for comment. Oceanco declined to comment, except that it values ​​the “confidentiality and confidentiality” of its customers.

Rotterdam City Hall said the application process is under way and when deciding whether to issue a permit, the city will take into account how many jobs have been created as a result of the ship’s construction, “possible environmental inconveniences” and the risks it could pose. impact on the protection of the monument.

Yacht on the pier in Zwijndrecht, near Rotterdam
A yacht allegedly built for Jeff Bezos on the pier at Zwijndrecht near Rotterdam © Guy Fleury / AP

However, there are growing expectations that the city will comply with the wishes of Bezos. This divided local opinion.

Some see Bezos as an avatar of aggressive capitalism, which has built a $ 1 trillion company with an uneven reputation for its attitude toward blue collars. Others hail him as a job creator whose willingness to spend generously on a superyacht is seen as a testament to the Netherlands’ centuries-old reputation as a naval superpower.

“It’s about ego and arrogance,” said Diantus Panacho, a 55-year-old Rotterdam entrepreneur. Panacho said Bezos had to pay a double expected fee “so that he could contribute with that extra 100,000 euros to help poor families near the bridge”.

Ellen Vercolen, a politician who fights for human rights over the age of 50 and a member of the newly elected city council, says the boat should be allowed to sail. “I think [some are jealous of those] who have the money to do what they want, “she said. “And they’re right, but when they have money, why not spend it here?”

Built in 1927, the bridge was originally designed to connect the north and south of the city by rail as the first railway bridge in Rotterdam and a recognition of the growing importance of the port in the industrialization of the Netherlands.

After capturing the imagination of locals, he was the subject of a silent film by Dutch director Joris Evans, which explores the complexity of the railway bridge with a vertical lift. It was later decommissioned in 1993 as a working bridge, but was later restored as a monument in 2017.

Piet Momofer, school principal, said the boat demonstrates the nation’s status as one of the world’s leading shipbuilders. “People from different countries come to work here,” he said. “It is important for the Dutch to have exceptional build quality of these ships.”

Diant Panacho
Entrepreneur Dianthus Panacho: “The fee alone is about 0.0002 percent of the value of the ship. So a small contribution and redistribution of wealth ‘© Marco Hofsté / FT

Details of the Bezos yacht are kept secret, but the design is reportedly inspired by Oceanco’s Black Pearl, currently the world’s largest and arguably the most environmentally friendly sailing yacht that can cross the Atlantic unnecessarily. of fuel and reaches a top speed of 30 knots. Black Pearl has a spa pool, hot tub and beach cinema. Early observations of the Bezos ship show a white superstructure with a black hull.

Elko van Vinzum, a 58-year-old industrial psychologist, said the idea of ​​a billionaire sailing his luxury boat through the canals contradicts the “Rotterdam lifestyle” he describes as working hard, building things, laughs. you drink beer and take care of each other ”.

“And then there is a super-rich man from abroad. Well, he created some jobs to build this ship, but after the deal is over, those jobs will disappear, “he said.

Van de Laar, a history professor, said the dilemma was whether “the city controls its own public space” or the ultra-rich “always find a way” to prevail.

“There is more to it than building a bridge,” he said. “From an engineering point of view, this is not a big deal. But that is not the question. You have to take your citizens seriously. “

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