Logistical challenge at port: Containers are piled up on the quayside

Logistical challenge at port : Containers are piled up on the quayside

With the Rhine water level currently standing at less than 1.30 metres, vessels in the port of Bonn can only load one third of their normal freight. Inland shippers are struggling to keep up with the amount of transport.

The drought of recent weeks has given crane and forklift drivers in the port of Bonn a great deal of extra work. "We currently have to handle between ten and 15 ships a day," reports terminal manager Thomas Butscheidt from the operator Am Zehnhoff-Söns. Normally between five and eight inland vessels visit the quay in the Nordstadt on a daily basis.

The reason for this high frequency of ships is the low water level of the Rhine, which dropped below 1.30 metres on Friday. The long-standing average level is 3.51 metres. To prevent the vessels from touching the bottom with so little water in the river, the skippers are currently sailing with only one third of their freight capacity. Therefore, a lot more journeys are required to transport the same volume of cargo.

For the port operator in Bonn, the situation is gradually becoming a logistical challenge. Containers are piled up behind the quayside and the scheduled cargo has to be reassembled each time it arrives. "We are already trying to reallocate cargo to trucks or rail transport," explains Butscheidt. However, the company’s rail connection is located in the Moselle port of Trier. The company’s own ship still commutes between the two locations, but it is not known how much longer this will continue.

On the Middle Rhine near the town of Kaub, the water level has now reached the critical level of 80 centimetres. "Ships are still sailing there. But according to their contracts, they are no longer obliged to transport cargo when the water is below this level," explains Butscheidt. This could mean that more ships are available for the port logistics companies in Bonn to take up the existing cargo.

Meanwhile, south of the bulkhead, a wide gravel bank from the Rhine water has appeared. Shippers who dock in Bonn have to circumnavigate them in a wide arc. Butscheid, however, does not believe that the port should be completely closed to shipping traffic. This hasn't happened in 100 years. However, if the drought continues for another two to three weeks, this cannot be guaranteed.

Two more heat waves have been announced, at least for next week. The weekend after next could see a change in the weather with some rain. Jan Böhme, hydrologist at the Water and Shipping Authority in Duisburg, explains that for the Rhine itself, as for all federal waterways, there are no travel restrictions. "Ships can sail as long as there is water underneath them." Böhme does not think that this will cause any environmental damage. Due to the reduced amount of cargo on board, the hull is just as far above ground as at a higher water level, even at low tide. However, there is a growing danger that the shippers may try to take too much cargo and get stuck.

(Original text: Martin Wein, Translation: Caroline Payne)