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Traffic builds up along Rhine after vessel’s engine failure

About 20 ships were stuck in traffic along Germany’s Rhine River after a vessel’s engine failure temporarily closed part of the waterway.

A ship with a 1,660-ton load was forced to drop anchor due to an engine failure, closing traffic between Sankt Goar and Oberwesel, river police said.

“It’s backing up,” a spokesperson for the federal waterways and shipping administration said. “The berths are full all the way to Mainz.” Mainz is about 31 miles (50km) south-east of Oberwesel.

Traffic headed upstream resumed at 1pm CET, the spokesperson said, adding that it could take another couple of hours before downstream traffic was freed up again.

In March 2021 a huge cargo ship became stuck in the Suez canal for six days, disrupting global shipping traffic. The chaos and backlog meant the journeys of hundreds of ships were delayed and some were forced to take the much longer route around the southern tip of Africa.

The authorities stressed that the buildup on the Rhine on Wednesday was not caused by reduced water levels, which have hit record lows at some points due to a lack of rain.

Weeks of baking temperatures and scant rainfall have drained water levels in the river, Germany’s commercial artery, causing delays to shipping and pushing freight costs up. The disruption could knock half a percentage point off economic growth in Europe’s biggest economy this year, say economists.

Rhine shipping authorities said they expected the situation to improve in the coming days as rain is forecast for the region and water levels could rise “by 50cm or more” by the end of the next week.

Water levels at the Kaub reference point were at 34cm (13.3in) on Wednesday. Levels in the 30-35cm range are acceptable for shipping – if expensive and with big losses in loadable cargo so as not to weigh down vessels too much.

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