The low bed of the main river artery of Germany already forces to reduce the transport of goods
The permanent drought and the unusual high temperatures that are recorded in Germany threaten to suspend river navigation, vital for the transport of goods and the supply of coal-fired power plants, which aggravates the already precarious energy situation of the largest economy in the EU. Especially on the Rhine, which crosses the country from south to north, the situation is critical. In some places the width of Germany’s main river artery has been halved and its depth has plummeted in recent weeks, to the point where it is possible to wade without getting more than waist deep. The drop in the water level currently forces the load of the ships to be reduced to only 30% of what is usual to prevent them from running aground and ending up blocking the river.
At Kaub, halfway between Mainz and Koblenz and halfway from Switzerland to Holland, the Rhine is at record lows of less than half a meter deep. “According to predictions, we will approach water levels of only 30 centimeters early next week. At that time, river navigation will inevitably have to be suspended,” said Bastian Klein, a scientist at the Federal Office of Hydrography (BfG), who commented that the navigable dredged path at that height is just over 1.5 meters and almost insufficient. Germany has a river and canal network of 7,350 kilometres, a large part of which is threatened with closure, something that is already happening on the Elbe from Hamburg upstream. Particularly affected is the transport of diesel for heating, which could lead to a shortage in autumn, when temperatures drop.
The German Confederation of River Navigation (BDB) highlighted that a good part of the 10,000 cargo ships that navigate European rivers, lakes and canals, 2,000 of them under the German flag, are anchored due to the problems that the sector registers due to the low water level. In Luxembourg and the neighboring German region of Trier, they are already suffering from a shortage of products and raw materials that usually arrive via the Moselle, a tributary of the Rhine. “We no longer receive any material,” laments Jürgen Helten, manager of the Luxport group, who in the Mertert port trades in construction material, fertilizers and metals. The difficulties for navigation have also tripled freight prices due to high demand and reduced supply and capacities.
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