Low water on the Rhine threatens petrol supplies in the southwest
Inland waterway vessels can still operate to a large extent. But the situation on the Upper Rhine in Baden-Württemberg is getting worse dramatically. There are only half-full freighters on the way. If there is no land rain in the southwest, this will soon be over.
Dhe Raiffeisen associations in Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg are currently under particular pressure. The farmers bring in the grain harvest and the further transport from the granaries by barge via the Danube, the Neckar and the Rhine becomes more difficult from week to week.
This is due to a lack of shipping capacity – and increasingly to the low water on the Upper Rhine. “The nerves are on edge with the cooperatives,” says an expert who does not want to be named. The operators of coal-fired power plants in the southwest of the country are also reporting foreseeable bottlenecks in their coal reserves. They are currently starting up plants again in order to replace natural gas from Russian supplies with domestic coal or coal imported from other countries for power generation.
Four years after the century low water of 2018 on the Upper Rhine, a problem situation is emerging again on Germany’s most important water transport route. This could hit industry and consumers hard. In the southern part of the river, the water level on the Rhine drops to levels that would no longer make economically viable inland navigation in the regions possible in a few weeks. The reason for this is the persistent drought.
A level of 53 centimeters was last measured at the measuring station in Kaub in Rhineland-Palatinate. The extreme value from the crisis year 2018 was 23 centimeters. The water levels are an arithmetical value, plus the usual lowest water level depending on the region. Together, this results in the water depth.
For inland waterway skippers, this means that, depending on the load, they can only cross the Rhine with freighters that are half full. Coal freighters only have half instead of 10,000 tons on board and have to travel more often for the delivery quantities. Shipping on the Rhine will not be blocked even if water levels continue to fall. This is possible as long as the inland waterway skippers want to continue their voyage with a lighter load.
The situation on the Rhine is very different: on the Lower Rhine near Duisburg, the level and water depth are still at the usual values for this time of year. The current water depth there is around 1.80 meters. According to the industry association, the entire fleet of ships operating there is in use.
Coal-fired power plants on the Lower Rhine would largely be supplied with supplies. This is different in the southwest. According to information from the “Handelsblatt”, the power plant operator Energie Baden-Württemberg (EnBW) had to restrict the operation of the plants in Heilbronn, Marbach and Walheim.
The supply of petrol, diesel and heating oil in the southwest of the country is also largely dependent on inland shipping. In 2018, some gas stations were no longer able to sell fuel. The chemical industry, such as that of BASF in Ludwigshafen, and the steelmakers also depend largely on supplies from the Rhine.
Romanian companies are buying up German barges
It will be decisive for the further development of Rhine navigation whether there will be several days of rain on the Upper Rhine well into September. Rain that lasts for days, for example in the Black Forest, can fill up the entire Rhine with water to such an extent that inland navigation immediately increases again. However, the forecasts of the Federal Institute for Hydrology do not assume a rapid change in the situation.
But even if the water levels for the bargemen are not exceptional for this time of year, the transport problem is definitely there. Because of the beginning grain deliveries from the Ukraine, there is a lack of shipping capacity on the Rhine.
Romanian entrepreneurs in particular have bought barges from the German market in recent months so that they can handle grain transport along the Danube ports. Big business awaits the transport companies there, namely if the transport from the port of Odessa will continue within Europe on inland waterways.
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