NWE Europe chems 'praying for rain' as extreme low Rhine levels wreak havoc

11 October 2018 16:07 Source:ICIS News

LONDON (ICIS)--Chronic low water levels on key shipping artery the River Rhine are continuing to wreak havoc on chemicals producers in northwest Europe (NWE), with lows in some spots the worst in more than two decades at some points, according to sources on Thursday.

Barges have been loading at reduced rates for months, resulting in rocketing shipping costs and logistic bottlenecks due to insufficient vessel and railcar space.

The situation has become so severe and bottlenecks so acute that some refiners are “paying any freight” to keep product moving, according to a market source.

Rhine water levels around Dusseldorf are around 56cm, according to the latest data on Thursday from the German Federal Water Authority, and are at similar levels around Kaub, a key shipping corridor along the route.

Water levels of below 100cm are an issue, and normal levels would be closer to 2m.

“It is a problem for all markets,” said one source. “A lot of product is getting stuck in ARA [Antwerp-Rotterdam-Amsterdam]. [We are] having issues getting to Antwerp, [there is] jetty congestion. That’s the bottleneck at the moment.”

Nylon 6,6 producer Solvay is still experiencing difficulties in obtaining adiponitrile (ADN) raw materials from France-headquartered Butachimie due to the low water levels.

Barges are being loaded at 50% capacity, and Solvay is still struggling to run at full rates.

ADN tightness in Europe has led to several unplanned nylon 6,6 outages and force majeure declarations this year, which remain in place.

There is a hope there will be more rain in October and November to help ease the logistical constraints.

Elsewhere, a glycol buyer also voiced frustration in obtaining material on the sidelines at ECPA meeting this week, due to barges are coming with lower quantities.

“[The] Rhine is a big issue”, it said.

Railcars are now extremely difficult to get hold of due to the level of demand, while truck driver shortages are continuing to impact on road freight.

All logistics options are more expensive at present than they would be under normal circumstances, with rail transport currently costlier than shipping.

“Barge transportation on the Rhine is getting worse and will remain bad through October, maybe even later,” said an isopropanol source.

Low rain levels and unusually high temperatures for the region through most of the summer drove down water levels, with conditions remaining warm and dry through the early autumn, and no clear indication of when conditions may change.

“It's a severe situation - water levels are so bad,” said a source.

“The situation could worsen, not sure how long it will continue for, we can't forecast it ... We are praying for rain."

Pictured: The River Rhine in Lobith, The Netherlands, in August
Source: Jasper Juinen/EPA-EFE/REX/Shutterstock

Additional reporting by Eashani Chavda, Melissa Hurley, Yana Palagacheva, Helena Strathearn and Nel Weddle

By Tom Brown