Danube's near-record lows strangle shipping

December 5, 2011 by Diana Simeonova
The dry banks of the Danube River are seen on December 1 near the Serbian town of Bezdan. Severe drought has hit Europe's second largest river, the Danube, turning it into a navigation nightmare for shipping companies all the way from Germany to Bulgaria.

Severe drought has hit Europe's second largest river, the Danube, turning it into a navigation nightmare for shipping companies all the way from Germany to Bulgaria.

According to Bulgaria's exploration agency, the levels of one of the continent's most significant commercial waterways dropped to near-record lows in the past month, making it barely passable at several critical points.

"There is just no water! The situation is critical not only here on the lower Danube but also upriver in Hungary, Austria, Germany," Ivan Ivanov, deputy chief of Bulgarian River Shipping (BRP), told AFP.

"We load barges far below capacity. The navigable fairway is also so tight at some points that towboats can pass only if transporting one barge at a time instead of the usual six."

"Shipping costs are soaring, I don't even want to calculate our losses," he said.

Ports have also been operating at reduced capacity, and two ferry lines between Bulgaria and Romania were "on the edge" and would have to temporarily shut if water levels dropped another 50 centimetres (20 inches), Ivanov said.

Across the Danube in Romania, river administration authorities in the southeastern port of Galati noted that "intensive dredging activities are under way to assure the minimum depth levels" for navigation.

Bucharest also feared it would have to shut one unit of its sole at Cernavoda if levels dropped further, as the reactor uses water from a Danube-Black Sea canal for cooling.

Such a shutdown already occurred in 2003 when the river level hit an all-time low, a record now less than half a metre away.

An old tyre is seen on December 1 on the banks of Danube river near the Serbian town of Bezdan. Bucharest also feared it would have to shut one unit of its sole nuclear power plant at Cernavoda if levels dropped further.

Meanwhile, Romania's state-owned Hidroelectrica company, 40 percent of whose production depends on the Danube, has said it is cutting electricity supplies.

With no on the horizon, prospects for improvement were dim as experts forecast that water levels would drop even further or stagnate at best.

The water mark was already "below low-navigation level" along a 200-kilometre (120-mile) stretch of the Danube between Bezdan on the Serbian-Hungarian border and Pancevo, near Belgrade, Serbia's hydrometeorological service said.

Only lighter ships are allowed through, as media reported that around 100 freighters coming down the Danube were already blocked at Bezdan.

Port authorities in Croatia's main Danubian town of Vukovar banned navigation for ships with a depth of over 1.3 metres, citing insufficient water levels downstream in Serbia and Bulgaria.

Slovakia's State Navigation Administration meanwhile specifically ordered ships to load less cargo.

Merchandise transport on the upper Danube in Austria and Germany was also affected following what Austria's meteorological institute ZAMG said was the driest November since records began in 1858.

Cargo shipping on the Danube was only at 25 percent of the usual volume due to the low , with cargo being diverted onto roads and rail, the Austrian waterway organisation Via Donau said.

The same was happening on the 69-kilometre stretch between the German ports of Straubing and Vilshofen -- the last free-flowing part of the Danube in Germany -- which has been completely blocked to cargo ships, with trains and trucks taking over, according to Adrian Bejan from Wuerzburg's Waterways and Shipping Directorate.

Shipping on the Rhine-Main-Danube canal linked to the North Sea also dropped severely over the past few weeks.

Meanwhile, the advance of winter is threatening a new obstacle.

"With no rainfall forecast anywhere from Germany down, the Danube's low and slow-flowing waters will freeze totally when temperatures drop low enough," BRP's Ivan Ivanov predicted.

The Bulgarian stretch of the Danube last froze in 1985.

Apart from being a key commercial waterway for Europe, the 2,860-kilometre river and its wetlands are home to unique ecosystems that have been severely damaged by human intervention such as gravel extraction, dredging and dam construction.

The environmental group WWF warned in a recent statement that the current drought was an important signal about the Danube's reduced ability to withstand extreme weather events.

Explore further: Hungary toxic sludge spill reaches Danube (Update)

Related Stories

Hungary toxic sludge spill reaches Danube (Update)

October 8, 2010

The company at the centre of Hungary's toxic sludge leak that killed four people defended itself Friday, as fears increased over the threat to marine life in Europe's second longest river.

Drought halts shipping on China's Yangtze

May 12, 2011

Drought on China's Yangtze river has led to historically low water levels that have forced authorities to halt shipping on the nation's longest waterway, the government and media said Thursday.

Officials: wall of Hungary sludge lake will fall

October 10, 2010

(AP) -- The wall of a reservoir filled with caustic red sludge will inevitably collapse and unleash a new deluge of red sludge that could flow about a half-mile (1 kilometer) to the north, a Hungarian official said Sunday.

Scientists say heavy metal in sludge not dangerous

October 7, 2010

(AP) -- The toxic red sludge that burst out of a Hungarian factory's reservoir reached the mighty Danube on Thursday after wreaking havoc on smaller rivers and creeks, and downstream nations rushed to test their waters.

WWF sounds warning on caviar

November 14, 2011

Poaching and illegal trade in sturgeon caviar persist in Romania and Bulgaria, environmental group WWF warned on Monday, posing a serious risk to the highly threatened species of fish.

Toxicity of Hungary's red sludge flow drops

October 8, 2010

(AP) -- The concentration of toxic heavy metals where Hungary's massive red sludge spill entered the Danube has dropped to the level allowed in drinking water, authorities said Friday, easing fears that Europe's second longest ...

Recommended for you

'Smoke rings' in the ocean spotted from space

December 11, 2017

Researchers from the University of Liverpool have spotted the equivalent of smoke-rings in the ocean which they think could 'suck-up' small marine creatures and carry them at high speed and for long distances across the ocean.


Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

2.3 / 5 (3) Dec 05, 2011
The dry banks of the Danube River are seen on December 1 near the Serbian town of Bezdan.

There is always a scary picture somewhere to scare folks into believing that world leaders grasp reality. They certainly do not!

There will be no peace on Earth this holiday season unless world leaders awaken to reality and accept their total powerlessness over the forces of nature.

World leaders were frightened by the powerful nuclear force that vaporized Hiroshima in 1945 and threatened to destroy the world in a final act of mutual nuclear destruction in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

They made agreements in 1971 to save the world by uniting nations against an imaginary common enemy global climate warming:


BBC news from the climate change summit in Durban illustrate the irrational fears that grip the public today.


O.K. Manuel
1 / 5 (2) Dec 05, 2011
Now wait a minute. . .according to your BBC article - "Let's have a reassessment of it by 2015." he said. "But if you don't finish in time for the ending of Kyoto Two, which is next year, 2012, then, you know, it will actually wither on the vine and that's what Canada and America wants - and one or two other rich countries.

"It's a conspiracy against the poor. It's appalling. I'm ashamed of such countries not recognising their responsibilities."

According to the Liberals in the U.S., the rich people here, BOTH Liberal and non-Liberal, are only about 1% of the population and the rest are middle-class workers, the working poor, and the poor at the bottom who are not working, never have worked and get welfare, and those who dropped out of finding a job. So how can they consider the U.S. a RICH nation with all the "poverty" going on here? This doesn't make sense. If ALL the rich leave the country, will Kyoto still say the U.S. is a rich nation? Maybe their perception is faulty.
1 / 5 (2) Dec 05, 2011
Barack Obama wants to heavily tax the rich and the private sector businesses, but most likely will NOT heavily tax rich Liberals. That's why private sector businesses have gone, and will continue to go overseas to open up shop.
Obama will see to it that the U.S. doesn't pollute any longer with fossil fuels, but he won't say anything to provoke the Chinese Communists who have surpassed the U.S. in polluting emissions. Seems like smaller countries should stop cutting down their trees and using them for firewood, and not replacing those trees. Democratic Republic of Congo has a growing desert because of all the trees they've cut and not replaced. Other countries in Africa also.
The truth is that EVERY country contributes to AGW, not just the "rich" ones. But they only want to blame certain countries and omit the "sins" of others.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.