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Rhine Water Levels Fall to 17-Month Low, Push Up Barge Demand

Water levels on the Rhine River dropped to the lowest level in 17 months, pushing up demand for barges on Europe’s busiest inland waterway.

The barge clearance level at Bingen, a potential bottleneck south of Cologne, dropped to 113 centimeters (44 inches) yesterday, according to German government data available on Bloomberg. The clearance level, the depth at which a barge can travel safely without the risk of running aground, is at its lowest since November 2009.

“The quantities we can lift are getting less and less,” said Joachim Hessler, operations manager at Maintank Schiffahrtsgesellschaft mbH, which delivers jet fuel and diesel. “Prices will start to move up,” he said, referring to freight rates.

The Rhine is a commercial waterway, linking industrial sites operated by BP Plc and BASF SE to Rotterdam, Europe’s business port. Barges, which would usually carry about 2,000 metric tons, are operating at as little as 30 percent of capacity, Hessler said.

The drop in water levels is causing a shortage of barges, said Patrick Kulsen, commercial director at PJK International BV, a research company based in Oosterhout in the Netherlands.

“There are long waiting times at terminals, especially at Amsterdam where much of the gasoline blending is done,” Kulsen said. European gasoline for immediate loading traded at a record $1,171 a ton today, according to a Bloomberg survey of deals done on the Argus Bulletin Board.

The cost of shipping gasoil to Duisburg in Germany from Rotterdam or Amsterdam was 5.50 euros ($8.14) a ton yesterday, according to data compiled by Bloomberg News. That was unchanged from the previous day.

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