Rhine River could fall below critical mark, risking industry

COLOGNE, Germany (AP) — Water levels on the Rhine River could reach a critically low point in the coming days, German officials said Wednesday, as the drought and energy crisis make it more difficult to transport goods — including coal and gasoline. Catch Europe.

Weeks of dry weather Many of Europe’s major waterways have become difficult to navigate, creating headaches for German factories and power plants that rely on ship deliveries and making an economic downturn more likely. According to Capital Economics, the transport of goods by inland waterways is more important in Germany than in many other Western European countries.

“This is particularly the case for the Rhine, whose water level at the Nautical Barrier at Kaub is very low but remains navigable for vessels with small drafts,” said Tim Alexandrin, a spokesman for Germany’s transport ministry.

Water levels at Kaub will drop below 40 centimeters (16 inches) early Friday and continue to fall through the weekend, officials forecast. Although this is still higher than the record low of 27 centimeters seen in October 2018, many large ships may struggle to safely cross the river at that point in the middle of the Rhine between Koblenz and Mainz.

“The situation is quite dramatic, but not as dramatic as 2018,” said Christian Lorenz, a spokesman for German logistics company HGK.

From France and Italy, Europe is struggling with dry spellsShrinking waterways and heat waves that are becoming more intense and frequent due to climate change. Low water levels are another blow to industry in Germany, which is struggling with dwindling natural gas flows. Which has increased the prices.

Due to water shortages, ships carrying salt on the Rhine from Heilbronn to Cologne could only transport 600 tons, he said, compared to ships normally carrying 2,200 metric tons (2,425 US tons).

“Of course, we hope that shipping won’t be stopped, but we saw in 2018 that when the water level got too low, gas stations suddenly didn’t have much fuel because ships couldn’t go,” Lorenz said.

Transport Ministry spokesman Alexandrine said authorities are taking steps to shift more freight to the rail network and, if necessary, prioritize it.

Those other options would be more expensive and take longer, making them impossible in some cases due to high costs, said Andrew Cunningham, chief European economist at Capital Economics.

River transportation issues are not problematic for German industry because of declining flows and rising natural gas prices, he said, as Russia cuts supplies to Germany. Up to 20% of capacity through the Nord Stream 1 pipeline. But if the troubles on the Rhine persist into December, economic growth may have little impact, adding little to already high inflation. And industrial production may decline slightly, economists said.

But Capital Economics already expects economic growth in Germany to be flat in the third quarter and to contract in the final three months of the year, saying, “Low water levels in the Rhine only make a recession more likely.Cunningham said.

HGK and other shipping companies are preparing for a “new normal” in which low water levels become more common as global warming exacerbates droughts, reducing water along the length of the Rhine from the Swiss Alps to the North Sea.

“Climate change cannot be denied and industry is adapting to it,” Lorenz said.

All new ships ordered by the company will be built with a view to making them suitable for low water levels on the Rhine, he said.

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Jordans reported from Berlin.

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