The Rhine is one of Europe’s most important trade routes for container ships. Water levels on the Rhine are critically low now because of unusually hot and dry weather, making it impossible for many vessels to navigate the shipping route fully laden. Rhine cargo shipping continues, but with vessels forced to sail half or more empty and cargo owners often needing to pay for four—five vessels to transport their loads instead of one, which led to climbing shipping costs. This is threatening further problems for the German industry, which is troubled by high energy costs, disrupted supply chains and inflationary prices.
The dried up water is causing major problems for German plants, which rely on deliveries by ship along the 1,232 km Rhine River. In several places between Bingen and Bonn (the Middle Rhine), near Kaub and Koblenz, the water level is below 35 cm. Fully loaded ships need about 1.5 m to be able to sail there. Shallow-draft barges can pass through the Middle Rhine in levels as low as 30 to 35 cm. On Monday, the water level is particularly low at narrow parts of Kaub and Koblenz at roughly 32 cm (down 20 cm w-o-w) and 29 cm (down 17 cm w-o-w) in depth respectively.
The container logistics service company Contargo said on Friday, 12 August, it would largely discontinue its navigation on the Upper and Middle Rhine (from Basel in Switzerland to Bonn in Germany). ‘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. So long as the gauge levels on the Lower Rhine allow inland navigation, we can transport containers via a land bridge between the terminals on the Upper and Middle Rhine and our terminals on the Lower Rhine. However, we must point out that our trucking capacities are limited,’ the company noted in its press release.
At the same time, the German Ministries of Transport and Economy are working to divert supply chains to rail and are considering intervening to prioritise critical goods.