The Urethane Blog

Rhine River Water Issues

Reduced loading rates as Rhine levels dwindle

Author: Tom Brown


LONDON (ICIS)–Falling water levels on key chemicals shipping route the River Rhine have resulted in reduced loading rates for vessels and the prospect of higher transportation costs for materials, sources and water agencies said on Wednesday.

Water levels at the Kaub measuring point near Frankfurt, Germany, have dwindled steadily since late 2019 in the absence of heavy rainfall, to around 120cm on Wednesday morning local time.

Water levels of below a metre at the Kaub point represent the onset of more extreme difficulties in navigating large freight vessels along the river, and there are already substantial restrictions on loading levels, according to a production source.

“Rhine water levels are low and we are seeing 20% under-load on gas barges and about 50% under-load on liquids [such as] aromatics,” it said.

According to German water agency projections,  water levels are expected to dwindle to 100cm or slightly below by the weekend in the absence of any improvement in conditions.

Source: Rhine Shipping Authority

The extent of the restrictions on loading and the resulting surcharges depend on what part of the river, which threads through much of mainland northwest Europe, ships are passing through, according to another.

Kaub is a noted choke point for freight, meaning that vessels headed for Ludwigshafen or Basel are likely to pay heavier fees, and that deliveries in and out of the BASF verbund site in the region are likely to be higher.

“For barges [with] destinations… in the upper Rhine, freight surcharges should be more modest since the water level is better,” the source added.

Soils in the Rhine’s catchment areas have yet to recover from a dry 2019, meaning that a large proportion of what rainfall there has been is retained in the soil, according to a spokesperson at the Rhine Shipping Authority.

Ice run-off from the Alps will be insufficient to replenish water levels, meaning that shipping conditions are likely to worsen until a patch of heavy sustained rainfall.

“The Rhine water levels will keep on falling slowly until significant rainfall will occur. Traffic is going on normally although with reduced loading,” the spokesperson added.