Shipping companies are preparing to halt goods transport on the Rhine as water levels in Germany’s largest river approach critical levels.
As water levels in Germany’s largest river approached a critical level Saturday, shipping companies prepared to halt cargo transport on the Rhine.
Drought has lowered rivers like the Rhine, preventing large ships carrying heavy loads from passing key waypoints and forcing them to use smaller vessels or split cargoes into multiple shipments.
On Saturday afternoon, an official gauge near the town of Kaub on the Middle Rhine measured the water level at 37 centimeters (14.6 inches). If the water level falls below 40 centimeters, large, heavy ships cannot pass (15.7 inches).
While the depth of the shipping lane in Kaub was still around 150 centimeters (59 inches), experts say that if water levels fall below 35 centimeters (14 inches) at the gauge mark, the passage becomes difficult to even for light or specially adapted cargo ships. A reading of fewer than 30 centimeters (11.8 inches) is considered unsafe.
Shipping officials predict that point will be reached early next week, though it is unclear whether water levels will reach the October 2018 record low of 25 centimeters measured at the Kaub gauge.
Contargo, a logistics company, announced on Friday that it was planning to halt shipping on the Upper and Middle Rhine for safety reasons and that it would shift some of its cargo onto trucks.
However, road and rail freight capacity are limited.
Companies that rely on ships to receive raw materials and deliver finished goods along the Rhine are expected to face delays and shortages. If Rhine shipping is halted, coal-fired power plants and gas stations may face supply shortages.
Meteorologists predicted rain in the coming days, but it was unclear whether it would be enough to keep Rhine water levels from dropping to the point where shipping would be hampered.
Authorities in Italy have allowed more water from Lake Garda to flow into parched local rivers like the Po, which farmers use to irrigate crops. With Italy experiencing its worst drought in decades, the country’s largest lake is approaching its lowest-ever recorded water level.
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