Flooding Closes Rhine River to Barges Upstream of Koblenz

The Rhine River, Europe’s busiest inland waterway, was shut to barges upstream of Koblenz in Germany as water levels along some parts of the river rose to the highest in at least seven years after heavy rain.

The level at Kaub, Germany, is about 200 kilometers (125 miles) south of Dusseldorf, rose to 6.61 meters (22 feet) as of 7:30 a.m. Berlin time, the highest since at least 2006, data from the German Federal Institute of Hydrology show. As a result, the Upper Rhine is inaccessible to smaller tankers and boats that ply the route to cities such as Cologne, Frankfurt and Karlsruhe in Germany and Basel in Switzerland, according to energy researcher PJK International BV.

“The Upper Rhine is not navigable so everyone there cannot move or discharge,” Pieter Kulsen, founder of PJK International, said by phone today from Breda, Netherlands. “It’s basically affecting the whole barge market right now and brought things to a standstill. Normally this is a short-term problem but if it takes longer, there could be a problem with barge supply and demand.”

The Rhine links industrial sites including BP Plc’s Gelsenkirchen oil refinery and BASF SE’s Ludwigshafen chemicals site to Rotterdam, Europe’s busiest port. A canal system running into Poland, the Czech Republic and Austria joins the Rhine at Duisburg, near Dusseldorf. Nonstop spring storms have raised the specter of the 2002 floods that crippled Prague, shutting down the Czech capital’s subway system for weeks and saddling insurers with tens of billions of koruna in claims.

Stable Rates

Barge rates have been stable in the past four days even as water levels rise and are unlikely to be affected because the floods will soon subside, according to Joachim Hessler, operations manager at Maintank Schiffahrtsgesellschaft mbH, who was speaking today by phone from near Frankfurt. The rate at Duisburg has been stable at 5.75 euros ($7.5) a metric ton since May 28, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

Further downstream, the river remains open to barges with water levels still about 4 meters below the point at which the link would be closed, according to the Wasser-und Schifffahrtsverwaltung, or WSV.

“There are no constraints on the Rhine between Bonn and the border of the Netherlands,” Renate Schaefer, a Muenster, Germany-based spokeswoman for WSV, which is responsible for barge activities on the northern Rhine, said in an e-mail. “Today they measured 7.39 meters in Ruhrort near Duisburg and this level should increase due to the water that is coming from the south today and tomorrow. Only if the level reaches more than 11.3 meters will they stop traffic on the Rhine.”

Drier weather is forecast over the next few days in central and western Germany so the levels are expected to subside with barge traffic resuming in two or three days, according to Kulsen of PJK International.

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