19.07.2022, Rheinland-Pfalz, Osterspai: Ein Frachtschiff passiert auf dem Rhein bei Osterspai eine Sandbank. Durch die anhaltenden Trockenheit des Hochsommers fällt der Wasserspiegel des Mittelrheins immer weiter. Foto: Thomas Frey/dpa +++ dpa-Bildfunk +++

Inland shipping is increasingly struggling with low water. It has hardly rained for weeks, river levels are falling, shore zones are drying up, new islands are rising. Furthermore, the German weather service predicts hardly any rain.

Passenger ships and ferries can no longer approach all landing stages and many cargo ships can only be partially loaded, as the Federal Association of German Inland Shipping (BDB) announced in Duisburg. Freighters have not been able to operate on the Elbe for weeks.

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According to BDB Managing Director Jens Schwanen, the low water intensifies the scramble for scarce shipping space in times of the Ukraine war and the energy crisis. In addition to the high demand from industry, agriculture and trade, there would be coal transports when the coal-fired power plants are restarted.

“The number of barges is limited,” says Schwanen. “Trucks are not a fundamental alternative because we transport so much larger volumes. Even a 110-meter ship can transport up to 3,000 tons,” explains the BDB boss. “Distribute that to trucks.”

And train companies? These would also have to serve a strong demand – with a total of too few wagons and train drivers.

In his own words, Schwanen is less concerned about the earnings of the bargemen – because of the so-called small water surcharge: Freight customers have to pay this extra at low water depending on the water level and contract. This can make transport noticeably more expensive for them.

The BDB boss is more concerned with the restrictions on federal waterways. It is necessary to deepen the lower Main to Aschaffenburg – that is not even in the planning stage.