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Rhine River may drop below tipping point, could endanger industry

Rhine water levels could drop very low in the next few days, German officials said Wednesday, prompting shipments of supplies including coal and gasoline. Transportation can become increasingly difficult. Drought and energy crises hit Europe.

Weeks of dry weather have turned several of Europe's major waterways into trickles, creating headaches for German factories and power plants that rely on ship deliveries, An economic slowdown is more likely than ever. According to Capital Economics, the transportation of goods by inland waterways is more important in Germany than in many other Western European countries.

German Transport Ministry spokesman Tim Aleksandrin said, "This is especially true for the Rhine. Kaub's navigational bottleneck is very low water levels, but small drafts. It is still navigable for ships."

Officials expect water levels in Kaub to drop below 40 centimeters (16 inches) early on Friday and continue to drop over the weekend. Although this is still higher than the record low of 27 cm recorded in October 2018, many large ships are sailing on the river at its location roughly halfway along the Rhine between Koblenz and Mainz. You may have trouble getting through safely.

"The situation is very dramatic, but still he is not as dramatic as in 2018," said Christian Lorenz, spokesman for German logistics company HGK.

Cargo ships travel on the Rhine River on August 10, 2022 in Koenigswinter near Bonn, Germany.
Andreas Rentz/Getty Images

From France and Italy, Europe is drought, Shrinking waterways and heat waves becoming more severe and frequent due to climate change. Low water levels are another blow to German industry, which is suffering from a contraction in natural gas flows, and prices are soaring.

Due to water shortages, a ship carrying salt down the Rhine from Heilbronn to Cologne could normally carry 2,200 metric tons (2,425 US tons) of cargo, and only about 600 tons, he said. said.

"Of course, we hope shipments aren't stopped, but in 2018, when the water level was so low, the petrol stations suddenly ran out of fuel because ships couldn't pass," says Lorenz. said Mr. He said.

Authorities are taking steps to shift more goods traffic to the rail network and will prioritize it if necessary, said Aleksandrine, spokesman for the Ministry of Transport.

Andrew Kenningham, chief European economist at Capital Economics, said these other options could be more expensive, time-consuming and, in some cases, impossible.

With natural gas flows shrinking and prices rising, river transport issues are not a problem for German industry, he said. Nord Stream 1 pipeline to 20% capacity. However, the Rhine's predicament, which he said will last until December, could have a modest impact on economic growth, adding little to already high inflation and increasing industrial output. may drop slightly. said the economist.

general view of low water level continues along the rhine river
Ying Tang/NurPhoto/

But capital economics is already flat. "Low Rhine water levels make a recession even more likely," said Kenningham, who is forecasting economic growth.

HGK and other shipping companies say global warming will make droughts more severe, draining water along the Rhine northward from the Swiss Alps and making low water levels more common, a 'new normal'. prepared for. Sea.

"There is no denying climate change and the industry is adapting to it," Lorenz said.

All new ships ordered by the company will be built with the aim of making them suitable for the low water levels of the Rhine, he said.