* Northbound drafts cut to 8 feet, southbound curbs imminent
* Cargo capacity reduced by at least 13 pct
* Further restrictions expected, shipping stoppage possible
By Karl Plume
Nov 30 Cargill Inc's barge company
said on Friday it has limited the volume of commodities that can
be loaded onto its vessels due to low water on the Mississippi
River and expects the situation to worsen along the critical
Drafts on northbound barges were limited to 8 feet (2.4
meters), down from 9 feet or more normally. Similar curbs on
southbound barges carrying grain and other goods from farms in
the Midwest to export terminals at the Gulf of Mexico were
imminent, said Richard Calhoun, president of Cargo Carriers.
The drought-sapped Mississippi River is forecast to drop to
near-historic lows by mid-December along a busy stretch from St.
Louis to Cairo, Illinois. Drought conservation steps have cut
water flow from upriver dams on the tributary Missouri River.
"If the (northbound) barge won't arrive until after that
time, it needs to carry a lower draft. The same will soon be
true on southbound business. We end up with 200 tons less than
normal in a barge by doing this, losing about 13 percent of the
normal capacity," Calhoun said.
"But as of today, it appears we are headed to more
restrictions and potentially a closure unless we get additional
rain or more water released off the Missouri River," he said.
Further shipping restrictions would include even lower
drafts and smaller barge tows to transit through a narrower
shipping lane, he said.
Numerous barge companies, including top operator Ingram
Barge, have started imposing curbs on drafts in anticipation of
lower water to avoid groundings or other damage to their fleets.
The U.S. Coast Guard has said it will not close the
Mississippi because of low water, but shippers stress that
navigation will be halted if the river drops much further.
At least 90 percent of the tow boat fleet on the Mississippi
requires drafts of at least 9 feet, although they may operate
with as little fuel as possible to ride slightly higher on the
Cargo Carriers is the fifth-largest barge line in the United
States with a fleet of about 1,300 barges.