Romans, Vikings, the Spanish, Napoleon; they all understood the strategic importance of the Scheldt. Thanks to its location to the river, Antwerp has become what it is today: a metropolis with an international seaport. “All an Antwerper has to do to connect with the rest of the world is simply dip his hand into the Scheldt's water,” former mayor Lode Craeybeckx once said. Thanks to the Scheldt, ships, for centuries, have brought the most diverse products from the farthest corners of the world to Antwerp and for every cargo a ship is available for any destination in the world.
The source of the Scheldt is in the North-French village of Gouy, and since 2009 the Port Authority is joint owner of the source of the Scheldt. The Scheldt flows via Hainault and Ghent to Antwerp. After 360 kilometres, the Scheldt flows into the North Sea near Flushing. The part from Gouy to Ghent is known as the Upper Scheldt, the part between Ghent and the Dutch border above Antwerp is known as the Sea Scheldt and from this border the Western Scheldt flows to the estuary in the North Sea.
The Western Scheldt and Sea Scheldt form a unique estuary. Subject to the tides, salt seawater and sweet river water mix. Because of the tides there is also a big area of mud flats and salt marshes, the protected nature reserve the Verdronken Land van Saeftinghe is a beautiful case in point. Because the mud flats and salt marshes regularly flood, they are important feeding grounds for birds. The Scheldt is a favourite feeding ground for migratory birds flying to the warm South to spend the winter.
Shipping on the Scheldt needs to take into account the tides. Thanks to the latest deepening of the Scheldt in 2010 the biggest container vessels in the world can get to Antwerp easily and safely. A constant depth of 13.1 metres is possible and taking into account the tides, vessels with a draught of 15.5 metres are able to get to the Port of Antwerp. Thanks to the deepening of the Scheldt, Antwerp continues to play a leading role as an international seaport.