Drought-hit Rhine reopens in Germany after blocked by vessel

The river was blocked to all commercial traffic when a vessel suffered a technical fault. PHOTO: AFP

BERLIN (BLOOMBERG) - The Rhine River has reopened at St. Goar, Germany for barges moving goods inland after a vessel that blocked the waterway was towed away after suffering a technical fault.

The river was blocked to all commercial traffic early Wednesday (Aug 17) between St. Goar and Oberwesel when a vessel suffered a technical fault, yet another glitch for the key waterway that has become difficult to navigate because of drought.

The blockage occurred on a narrow part of the river near a key chokepoint at Kaub, south of Cologne, according to the WSA water authority.

It occurred just as the water level at Kaub is starting to edge higher.

After falling as low as 30cm earlier this week, it's now forecast to reach 49cm early on Aug 21. The level isn't the actual depth of the river, but rather a marker used for navigability. The river can be a few feet deeper than the marker.

Low water levels are restricting the shipment of commodities along the Rhine River, which snakes for about 800 miles from the Swiss Alps down to the North Sea. This latest setback only adds to the logistical difficulties already facing shippers.

The marker at Kaub is currently 34cm, meaning the water is so shallow that it's uneconomical for many commodity-hauling barges to sail through the chokepoint. That's curbing the shipment of vital goods to locations further upriver, including parts of southern Germany and Switzerland.

Low water levels are set to continue limiting shipments for some time yet. Even if the marker at Kaub rises to 49cm as forecast, many barges will still be severely restricted in how much cargo they can carry through the chokepoint at that level.

Energy prices in Europe have soared amid the crisis. Coal futures reached a record on Wednesday. Barge rates to ship some fuel from Rotterdam to Basel, Switzerland are near an all-time high.

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