Shippers using Europe’s inland waterways face “phenomenal” surcharges and the possibility of cargo not being delivered as barge operators contend with low water levels.
On Friday, Contargo announced surcharges of €175 ($203) and €225 ($261) for 20-foot and 40-foot containers, respectively, if the water level drops below 80 cm, as predicted, claiming its costs would rise as a result.
“The water level gauges on the Rhine continue to drop. In the next few days a level below 80 cm is predicted,” Contargo said. “From there, our barges – depending on the type – can only transport about 27% of their capacity and our costs increase.
“Surcharges apply to full containers transported between the ports of Rotterdam/Antwerp and the Rhine/Main stations above Koblenz.”
To add to shippers’ concerns, the barge operator noted that, should Kaub’s gauge fall below the 80cm mark, “we are no longer obliged to transport.”
But he added: “We will do our best to continue transporting the booked containers. We ask for your understanding for the fact that we will no longer be able to safely meet the deadlines. This is also clearly stated in our general conditions.”
As alternatives, it pointed to rail connections at Contargo’s facilities to and from the seaports where it operates, adding that it intended to increase capacities at these locations through additional services.
However, one source noted that rail services had not yet fully recovered from this year’s heavy flooding in the region and claimed that barge operators were failing their customers.
“The larger barges are still capable of handling relatively large volumes – depending on weights, they can handle around 50% of their usual capacity.” “The problem shippers face is that brokers are not willing to pay charter rates to use these types of vessels.”
Shippers using northern European waterways have become accustomed to delays, and congestion has intensified since early 2021. October equaled February’s record, when cargo owners found themselves waiting the better part of a week for deliveries, and although the current wait in Rotterdam is a mere three days, the surcharge announcement has not been well received.
And, as if to underline the challenges facing the industry, a 25km stretch of the Rhine was closed last Tuesday after a near collision between two vessels grounded both, and only reopened after a three-day dredging operation.