Low water levels in the Rhine River severely impact barge and shipping traffic. The Rhine is one of the most important inland shipping routes in Europe. EU nations have for years now tried to emphasize getting freight traffic off the roads and onto rivers via barge.
One of the most severe impacts is to refineries along the Rhine. They have had to shut down because of lack of supply. That’s bad for Europe, because of the shortage of petroleum fuels due to the Ukraine war.
This map shows the problem.
The depth measurements at Kaub, shown in the middle of the map, increased in the last few days due to extensive rain in Switzerland, but remain far below normal levels. There’s not enough water to float some barges that would normally be used for river cargo and petroleum products.
It’s a blow for the EU caused by a natural problem. Is global warming to blame? We don’t know, but cyclical droughts have been known for years, and clearly disrupt our plans. Trucking congestion is rising fast, and is neither as efficient nor as clean as the barge traffic.
Barge operators in Europe are calling for greater cooperation between ocean carriers, port terminals, and barge operators to make sure the goods flow smoothly to and from ships, port terminals and barges.
Barges, like containerships, take up quay space. The very large container ships now take up a lot of berth space, and it can be hard to schedule in the much smaller barges. So detailed joint planning is needed to make the loading and unloading happen as quickly as possible. It will only be possible if all the parties involved in moving the containers cooperate. And that will include warehouses and trucks as well.
A good prescription for future cooperation? I’m not sure, but somehow cooperation and sharing of information is essential.