The prolonged drought in Europe this summer has led to the River Rhine in Germany being closed to barge traffic, the Institute of Export and International Trade (IEIT) reports. The region has endured weeks of baking temperatures and sparse rainfall. This has led to the water levels to drop below the acceptable level for shipping in some places.
Marco Forgione, director general of the IEIT, said: “Exporters and importers in Britain need to be concerned about what’s happening in Germany. Supply chains are disrupted already. What’s happening with the issues around fuel resilience … just creates another tier of uncertainty and concern.”
Barges had already been operating at a quarter of their loading capacity, to prevent them from running aground in shallow waters. In some areas, water levels measured 32-37cm on the Kaub gauge, well below the acceptable minimum of 41cm. In 2018, the Rhine was partially closed for six months, following a hot dry summer.
Barge operator Contargo told customers: “We will position our barge fleet in such a way as to be able to safely unload your containers at one of our terminals. We will do our utmost to continue to transport your containers.”
They added: “So long as the levels on the Lower Rhine allow inland navigation, we can transport containers via land bridge between the terminals on the Upper and Middle Rhine and our terminals on the Lower Rhine.”
It is feared that the disruption will cause further backlogs at Europe’s ports, which are already suffering from the global supply chain congestion, and have been further impacted by the war in Ukraine.
There has been some discussion about deepening the river to avoid a similar situation in the future. Inland transport consultant Gunther Ginckels commented: “This shows just how important inland navigation is to ensure the movements of goods across Europe, but it should not take these dramatic events for people to realise this.”
He added: “It may be that following this closure, the deepening project is back on the agenda, but I do not know the full extent of any plans. I can tell you that simply deepening it along the Kaub gauge will not be sufficient.”
The Guardian reports that further difficulties have been added after a cargo ship suffered engine failure, causing part of the waterway to be closed. This led to a backlog of about 20 ships at Oberwesel. It is understood that the vessel has now been restarted, allowing traffic to resume.
There is some hope on the horizon, as substantial rainfall is forecast during the next few days. The Rhine is the second longest river in Central and Western Europe, and it is about 760 miles long, beginning in the Swiss Alps, and flowing through Austria, Liechtenstein, Germany, France, and the Netherlands, where it flows into the North Sea.
It has been a major inland trading route since the days of the Roman Empire, and several major world cities are built along its shores, including Rotterdam, Dusseldorf, and Strasborug.
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