* Barge lines cut drafts to 8 feet from normal 9-12 feet
* Each foot of reduced draft cuts cargo by 200 tons
* River to drop further so shipping may stop completely
By Karl Plume
Nov 29 U.S. grain exporters have slashed by up
to 50 percent the weight of cargo shipped by barges on the
Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico due to low water on a
critical stretch of the waterway after the worst drought in 56
years, grain traders and barge operators said on Thursday.
Barge companies, including Ingram Barge, have informed
exporters that the draft has been reduced to 8 feet from the
normal 12 feet for shipments on the Mississippi River north of
Cairo, Illinois, which means 800 tonnes less in cargo loaded on
"That's a sizable chunk of cargo," said John Kindra, head of
the Illinois River Carriers' Association and president of Kindra
He said exporters would have to pay extra in freight charges
because of the draft restriction.
Less cargo allows barges to ride higher on the water but
also increases costs to ship products such as grain, steel, coal
and fertilizer as more barges are needed to haul the cargo and
barge tow boats would burn more fuel making more frequent trips.
Reduced water from the Missouri River, which flows into the
Mississippi River at St. Louis, was expected to cause the
already-low Mississippi to drop by several more feet in the
The prime area of concern is from St. Louis south to Cairo,
Illinois. Rocks on the river bottom at two locations along that
stretch will become increasingly dangerous for boats as the
river recedes, and the river could effectively be closed to
navigation if it gets as shallow as current forecasts suggest.
Shippers have also been scrambling to move goods up and down
the river ahead of any shipping disruption.
"In preparation of the possible low water levels expected
around December 10, we have had a number of shippers advance
their schedules in order to get shipments through this area in
advance of the low water," said Daniel Mecklenborg, senior vice
president of Ingram Barge Company.
Ingram Barge this week reduced allowable drafts to 8 feet
for any barges that will transit the area upriver from Cairo,
which would include any barges loaded along the Illinois River.
Under normal river conditions, fully loaded barges on the
Mississippi contain about 1,500 tons of cargo and have drafts of
about 12 feet. On the Illinois, barges are regularly loaded to
about a 9-foot draft, or about 900 tons.
Barges lose about 200 tons of capacity for each foot of
Shipping could come to a complete halt if drafts are limited
even further as only a few tow boats can operate in such shallow
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 in their tanks as possible to ride slightly
higher on the water.
(Reporting by Karl Plume and K.T. Arasu in Chicago; editing by