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Global Economy

Shipping is threatened with new restrictions

Because of the low water levels of the Rhine, shipping could be further restricted. "It's within the realm of possibility," said Bastian Klein, an expert at the Federal Institute for Hydrology (BfG). As long as the level in Kaub (Rhineland-Palatinate) is still 30 to 35 centimeters, shallow inland waterway vessels can continue to navigate the Middle Rhine. Below this mark, however, shipping tends to come to a standstill.

The Kaub gauge is west of Frankfurt am Main and Wiesbaden and south of Koblenz. The water is currently a good 45 centimeters deep there, but the water levels are expected to drop further by the beginning of next week, Klein said. Then rain was predicted: "Then there is an increase again, but no end to the low water situation is to be expected."

In order to be able to sail fully loaded, the Rhine ships need a water level of one and a half meters. Therefore, the ships can only be partially loaded at the moment, some only a quarter.

Low water time is actually still to come

Actually, the classic low water period begins in late summer and autumn on the Rhine, said Klein. In October 2018, only 25 centimeters were measured at Kaub. But inland shipping has been struggling with low water for weeks. It hardly rains, the water levels in the rivers are falling, new islands are appearing in the river as obstacles. In addition to the restricted freight transport, passenger ships and ferries can no longer call at all piers, the industry had recently complained.

The low water exacerbates the problem of the already scarce ship loading capacities. Industry, agriculture and trade would need the transport capacities anyway, and there would now be more coal transports because the coal-fired power plants are being increasingly used due to the gas crisis, according to the inland navigation association. But the number of inland vessels is limited.

If necessary, prioritize coal transports by regulation

In order for the coal to get to the power plants, the Federal Economics and Transport Ministries also want to have it transported by rail. The first thing to do is to allocate free routes for this. However, if things get tight, coal transports could be given priority by regulation if necessary, said a spokesman for the Ministry of Transport.

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