Low water levels on Rhine hampers Danube shipping in Germany

An aerial picture shows a ferry over Europe's most frequented waterway the river Rhine in Mondorf, a suburb of the North Rhine-Westphalian city of Bonn, Germany May 6, 2015. REUTERS/Wolfgang Rattay

HAMBURG (Reuters) - Low water levels mean cargo vessels still cannot sail fully loaded on the Rhine and Danube rivers in Germany, traders said on Monday.

Low levels since the summer have created logistical problems for buyers and distributors of commodities including diesel, heating oil and grains as vessels could at best sail half-loaded. An unplanned shut down of Switzerland’s only oil refinery exacerbated the problem.

The Rhine is too shallow to allow vessels to sail with full loads in its entire length south of Cologne and Duisburg, traders said.

The Danube is also too low for ships to sail with full loads along the German section of the river, they said.

Low water means vessel operators impose surcharges on freight rates, increasing costs for cargo owners. More vessels are needed to transport cargo, also increasing costs.

“Rain and snow is forecast in the Rhine catchment areas this week which could raise water levels,” a trader said. “People are hoping the wetter winter weather will solve the problem of low water at last.”

The Rhine is an important shipping route for commodities including grains, minerals, coal and oil products such as heating oil.

The Danube is an important route for heating oil and for east European grain exports to west Europe.

Reporting by Michael Hogan, editing by Susan Thomas