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Shippers need to be prepared for Rhine River disruption

Photo: Unsplash Barge of the River Rhine
Shippers should prepare and find solutions for major delays on Europe’s key rivers and canals should water levels become critical.

Xeneta Chief Analyst Peter Sand highlighted the Rhine which serves Rotterdam and Port of Antwerp-Bruges with river barges beyond the Duisburg inland terminal and as far inland as Basel in Switzerland.

Sand said that Xenata has been analysing the situation on the Rhine and the company believes, “something is boiling - but it's too early to say whether we will have a repeat of last year’s problems”.

In August 2022 the Kaub gauge hit a low 32cm, closing the river to traffic and disrupting inland connections.

Sand is urging shippers to consider that similar events may occur this year. “It's a risk that all shippers on the river must consider as critical,” he said, adding cargo owners should ask, “What are my options, what did I do last year, can I do anything different? The risk-averse shippers are already making contingency plans. History sometimes repeats.”

The analyst added that the effects of low water levels on the rivers and canals in Europe go beyond Inland shipping.

“The impact on trucking and rail rates should also be considered - as a sudden and heavy use of these alternatives will swing that transportation market [rates] upwards” as train and truck capacity becomes stretched.

The Rhine Forecast website showed Duisburg water levels at a little over 3.5m, but further upstream in Bonn, Cologne, Dusseldorf and Kaub the depth becomes progressively shallower, with Kaub at just over 1.5m and predicted to dip substantially below that level next week.

The Central Commission for Navigation on the Rhine (CCNR) told Seatrade Maritime News, “The German waterways and shipping administration publishes its gauge station values on the Elwis website which you can view here.

“For selected gauge stations, like Kaub and Duisburg, forecasts and long-term projections are available. These allow all stakeholders in the transport mode to anticipate water level developments and adjust their activities to the available navigable channel depth.”

However, the CCNR also pointed out that all this information is published in German only.

In addition regular updates on the meteorological and hydrological situation on German inland waterways are also provided by the German Federal Institute for Hydrology (Bundesanstalt für Gewässerkunde, BfG) which is translated into English and can be found at: