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A cutter suction dredger cuts hard soil into fragments with a rotating cutter head. The material is sucked up by dredge pumps and discharged to a deposit area through pipelines across sea and land. In some cases, split hopper barges moored alongside the cutter suction dredger transport the soil to the deposit area to unload it there.

While operating, cutter suction dredger are stationary dredgers. During the dredging works, a spud is lowered in the seabed to secure the vessel. As a result, it is kept on the same location, but by using winches and anchors, the dredger swings sideways and the cutter head cuts and removes the soil. Many Jan De Nul cutter dredgers are self-propelled allowing them to move from location to location under their own power.

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