As we reported, Germany has had difficulties producing coal as a replacement for lost energy from Russia because of dropping water levels on the Rhine. Now, there is a serious risk of other commodities not being able to make it through the critical shipping route.
In addition to coal transport, the Rhine is needed to move other necessities such as food, minerals, chemicals and oil products. If it dries up, as it appears to be doing, then ships will no longer be able to get through, resulting in a shipping halt.
As if damaged supply chains were not already bad enough, now the Rhine situation is exacerbating the situation – watch the DW report below to see it with your own eyes:
Sky News also published a series of images showing just how little water remains in the Rhine.
Many German factories have to use the Rhine to receive and deliver supplies and goods. If the Rhine goes, so do these businesses – and so does the German economy at large.
"The waterway – one of the longest and most important rivers in Europe – runs from the Swiss Alps through Liechtenstein, Germany, Austria, France and the Netherlands," Sky News explains.
More than one ton of freight for each resident of the European Union (EU) is delivered via the Rhine every single year. This is a massive volume that illustrates just how important the Rhine is to all of Europe, covering $80 billion worth of Germany's economy.
"This is particularly the case for the Rhine, whose nautical bottleneck at Kaub has very low water levels but which remains navigable for ships with small drafts," said Tim Alexandrin, a spokesman for Germany's transport ministry.
Back in October 2018, the water level at Kaub reached a record low of 27cm. It is currently higher than that at 40cm, but could reach new lows in the coming weeks without rain to save the day.
With each passing day, it becomes increasingly more difficult for larger vessels to pass through the worst spots on the Rhine. Navigators must carefully dodge sandbars and other obstructions while trying to maintain course through the deepest and safest spots.
"The situation is quite dramatic, but not as dramatic yet as in 2018," said Christian Lorenz, a spokesman for the German logistics company HGK.
Currently, ships bringing salt from Heilbronn to Cologne, which typically carry about 2,200 tons of cargo each, are only able to transport about 600 tons each.
"Of course we hope that shipping won't be halted, but we saw in 2018 that when water levels got very low the gas stations suddenly had no more fuel because ships couldn't get through," he added.
Normally, a ship moving through the Rhine would have about two full meters of clearance underneath it. Now, however, the worst spots only have 40cm, which is dangerously close to hitting the bottom.
"And then for us, the challenge is to get past those points without touching, without damaging the ship," said Servian captain Peter Claereboets.
"Because of the low water levels, the sailing route gets narrower, and we actually start travelling like trains, in a convoy," he added.
There is already talk of having to modify shipping paradigms to accommodate a "new normal" for the Rhine. New ships will reportedly be built for much lower water levels, suggesting this is a prolonged event.
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