Sonntag, 08.12.2019 18:58 Uhr

More low water threatening if CO2 levels remain

Verantwortlicher Autor: Jochen Raffelberg Bonn, 02.12.2019, 09:02 Uhr
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Minimal investment reduces the impact of low water levels to refitted barges
Minimal investment reduces the impact of low water levels to refitted barges   Bild: Contargo

Bonn [ENA] Mr Cok Vinke, Managing Director of Contargo Waterway Logistics BV, shared an insight of his Company’s quick fix to reduce impacts of last year’s disastrous low water on the River Rhine. He said in Bonn that cheap tail adjustments to barges even enabled them to negotiate the shallowest point at Kaub.

Mr Vinke told an inland navigation expert conference that to remedy the reduction in cargo volumes during low water periods four of their vessels had been fitted at boatyards in Antwerp and Dordrecht with extra metal plates so that they had to sit only 130 cm instead of 150 cm deep in order for their propellers to have enough water. Thanks to investments of 10,000 euros per barge they could sail with 10-15 cm more water beneath the keel and carry 200-300 tons of additional freight even through the shallowest river point at Kaub. With an annual transport volume of two million TEU (twenty-foot long containers), the Dutch Contargo is one of the largest container logistics networks in Europe.

Addressing an experts’ event convened by the Strasbourg-based Central Commission for the Navigation of the Rhine (CCNR) Mr Vinke’s example of how to tackle low water problems for inland navigation was in striking contrast to high-flying industry solutions including new propulsion mechanisms, digital navigation tools, smaller ships in favor of large-capacity push-barge units and more modern types of ships altogether. The inland shipping specialists heard that apart from the diversification of the fleet an adjustment of the waterways’ infrastructure was needed with focusing investment in upgrading and new construction on unblocking bottlenecks caused eg by poor laden draughts specially on the Middle Rhine, and the rehabilitation of locks.

However, the CCNR members from Belgium, France, Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands were told they needn’t panic. Based on hydrological data from the last hundred years Mr Jörg Uwe Belz of the German Federal Institute of Hydrology showed graphs predicting a tightening of the low-water regime only in the second half of the 21st century if human behavior remained unchanged. But given consistent application of climate protection measures including CO2 reduction climate researchers expected only marginal low water changes in the Rhine. Prior to the reassurance CCNR commissioner Barbara Schaefer had spoken of the worries that the extreme 2018 low water had caused leading to a loss in German industrial output of almost 5bn euros.

The low water development and possible climatic influences had put inland navigation in the focus of media and the German government had acknowledged the importance of waterway transport by issuing an action plan addressing the most urgent sector needs. The Bonn workshop had been CCNR’s reaction to the development raising awareness and discussing solution models. Her colleague Michael Heinz added amid the low water inland shipping’s volatility had risen because of the steady increase in the number of deep going big vessels. Presently more than 200 of them measured 135 meters in length and the trend continued unabated causing enormous challenges not least to infrastructure, loading and storage facilities.

The graph shows low water predictions in case of unchanged human behavior in fighting greenhouse gases
Low water predictions with robust application of climate protection measures including CO2 reduction. Source: bfg

While inland navigation fleet adjustments and innovations have produced first results and more government-supported incubations recently started, Germany’s parliament this month approved legislation allocating over 100 additional posts to the waterways’ administration. The inland navigation lobby applauded the decision saying with the new qualified staff dilapidated locks could now be rehabilitated and expansion undertaken. This is in line with the Berlin administration’s 2019 Inland Waterway Transport Masterplan. Fixed assets of the federal waterways amount to 50bn euros including around 650 locks and weirs, four ship-lifts, 1,000 bridges and 14 operational centers.

Mr Andreas Scheuer, the transport minister responsible for the plan, has named its five priority areas: adequate infrastructure by investing billions of euros; moving over to more efficient and lower-emission vessels for instance by retrofitting diesel engines; pushing ahead inland waterway transport 4.0 by interlinking ports, digitalizing locks and automating vessels as well as cargo handling processes; shifting more containers, bulk cargo and heavy goods from roads to inland waterways and recruiting additional quality staff for the sector and modernizing the industry’s training. The CCNR is governed by a Convention of 1868 on policing the Rhine. The supra-national body also functions as the seat of the Rhine navigation tribunal.

Many of the CCNR activities reach beyond the Rhine and are directly concerned with European navigable waterways. The commission works closely with the European Commission as well as with the other river commissions and international organizations. German inland shipping includes a fleet of more than 3,000 vessels; its some 900 companies in 2016 generated sales of 1.5bn euros.

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