Rhine’s low levels forcing large barges to load at 65% capacity - authority

26 June 2017 13:10 Source:ICIS News

A barge near Rhine

LONDON (ICIS)--Low water levels on the River Rhine are preventing the largest barges to fully load, a spokesperson for the Rhine Shipping Authority (WSA) said on Monday.

lRhine water levels at Kaub 26 June 2017
Water levels are expected to remain at this level in the coming days, but data from the WSA already shows how this year’s June levels are at the lower end of the last seven-year average (see graph, January-June 2010-2017 water levels. Source: WSA).

With the summer and drier weather conditions starting in Europe, petrochemical sources have shown concern that transport logistics could only worsen going forward.

The River Rhine is a key transportation route, running through many important German industrial areas and flowing into the North Sea in the Netherlands, another major petrochemicals logistical hub.

The Kaub station, in western Germany, is a main measuring point given its shallow depth and the industrial surroundings which make the transport route key for trade.

Rhine mapA key petrochemical site which is near Kaub is Germany’s chemical major BASF’s flagship facilities at Ludwigshafen, just 100 kilometres (km) (62 miles)south of Kaub (see map).

“Today’s water level at the Kaub station is 140cm [centimetres], corresponding to a fairway depth of 190cm-78cm+140cm=252cm,” said WSA spokesman Florian Krekel, who explained how these levels can start affecting large barges when loading material.

“With this fairway depth, most of the vessels cannot load fully. The rate to which barges are able to load depends on their maximum draught, which ranges between 2.50m [metres] and 3.50m for most of the barges.

“So barges with a maximum draught of 2.50m may currently load close to full. With an increasing maximum draught, the [loading] rate decreases – e.g. a barge with 3.50m maximum draught can load currently about two thirds of its maximum capacity.”

While water levels are expected to remain unchanged in coming days, the long-term weather forecasts predict dry conditions, which could exacerbate the situation.

A spokesperson for Gemany’s Federal Institute of Hydrology (BfG) said on 24 June that although some rain is expected through the rest of the month, July is expected to be comparatively dry, potentially worsening the low water levels.

On Monday, WSA’s Krekel said: “A real low-water period has not started yet, but it is not far away. The first half of 2017 has been rather dry in the Rhine catchment area so we enter summer on comparatively low water levels.”

Additional reporting by Katherine Sale (infographics)

Pictured above: A barge on the Rhine near the Kaub station
Source: Thomas Frey/imageBROKER/REX/Shutterstock

By Jonathan Lopez