An iron-eating bacterium has been found in the Canal from Ghent to Terneuzen. It’s the MIC bacteria. It eats right through iron and even through steel. In the marina of Zelzate, just across the border in Belgium, several boats have already been badly damaged. Belgian researchers are very concerned.
The bacteria is not only a danger to boats; steel sheet piles along the canal can also be affected.
Researchers from the Hogere Zeevaartschool in Antwerp and the universities of Ghent and Leuven have discovered the bacterium. They are surprised by its power. Where normally about 0.1 millimeter of steel per year rusts away under water, this bacterium eats away up to half a centimeter every year, the researchers say.
The iron therefore disappears fifty times as fast as normal. “I have already examined hundreds of sea-going vessels, but this is unprecedented. The bacteria eat the ship, as it were. Never seen how quickly this bacteria strikes,” says Kris De Baere, professor at the Hogere Zeevaartschool.
De Baere does not rule out the possibility that the bacterium is also present on the Dutch side of the canal. “The open water means that the bacteria can easily spread and for the time being we have no idea where else the bacteria are.” He calls for a major study into the bacterium and its spread.