History of the port

Ecluse de la Citadelle en 1853

The late 20th century

The period from 1958 onward was one of major expansion to the port infrastructures.

The loss of production in the Saar due to war damage, and the increasing need for steel products, led to the idea of a "waterside" steel industry. Starting in 1958 a new maritime dock, reclaimed from the sea, was excavated; the first ship entered it in 1962. Through the Watier lock ships of 55,000 tonnes could reach this dock of approximately 100 hectares, which was initially equipped with two 30-tonne gantries. From a tonnage of practically zero in 1961, ore imports reached 5 million tonnes in 1963. With nearly half the tonnage of ore reshipped to the steel industry in the Nord, Lorraine, Luxembourg and the Saar, Dunkirk became the leading ore port in France.

In the area of inland waterways, a diversion of 11 km discharging to the west of the Maritime Dock brought the Dunkirk-Escaut canal up to European gauge. 300-tonne barges now sailed alongside lighters of 1,350 tonnes and push tows of more than 3,000 tonnes.

New installations were built to meet the needs of fast-growing traffic: these included a wine warehouse holding 43,000 hl, and a two-storey air-conditioned hangar of 15,000 m².   During the 1950s and 1960s Dunkirk became France's leading port for imports of fruit and vegetables. The surface area of the textile shed was increased to 50,000 m². The production capacity of the BP refinery was increased significantly (2 MT in 1955). The port also acquired a repair centre comprising a mooring basin with a floating dock, to which was added, in 1962, a new dock of 20,000 tonnes, a quay of 375 m, and wharf storage areas. 

In 1951 the port passed the 5,400,000-tonne mark, and in 1958 the tonnage of 8 million was double that of 1938.

1970 saw the completion of the Charles de Gaulle lock: its dimensions allowed the passage of ships of more than 100,000 tonnes and draughts of 13.75 metres. It was opened by Prime Minister Jacques Chaban-Delmas on 3 March 1972.

Dunkirk Autonomous Sea Port was created on 8 November 1965 when the Autonomous Sea Ports Law of 1 April 1966 came into force.

1975 saw the first ship enter the new Western Port, accessible to tankers of 300,000 tonnes.