P&I Club

Update Volume 2020/23 Low water levels expected again due to drought

Published on 1 july 2020

After the droughts in recent years, it is expected that Europe will again face a period of unusual low rainfall in the coming summer as well. As a result, lower water levels are expected in European rivers and waterways during the summer.

Lower water levels result in narrower fairways and less draught, which reduces the navigable water surface area and increases the traffic density on the waterway. On the one hand, there is simply less space; on the other hand, ships can carry less cargo and therefore perform more voyages. In addition, authorities may impose limits or bans on overtaking. 

Anyone who does not take sufficient account of low water levels may be faced with unpleasant surprises. In the past, we have assisted insured parties who had to unload part of the cargo prematurely halfway through a voyage. That part of the cargo was then transported by lorries to the port of discharge. A time-consuming but also an expensive as the costs for alternative transport in such a case are often borne by the carrier. 

Delays in your journey can also have unpleasant consequences for the options available to discharge the cargo or commencing a subsequent journey. In addition, vessels may suffer damage and delay running aground due to insufficient draft due to overloading.

We recommend that you take at least the following measures:

  • Check the water levels and government imposed limits per voyage at different times:
    - before accepting a voyage; 
    - before you start loading; 
    - on longer journeys, also during the journey.
  • If the water levels or government imposed limits are expected to cause problems, contact your charterer and, if necessary, take appropriate measures.
  • Allow for additional travel time due to congestion on the waterways and at critical points such as locks and port entrances.
  • Prepare thorough calculations of the maximum permissible load weight for your vessel. Also check the cargo’s characteristics to ensure that the weight is consistent with the specification agreed, e.g. check the stowage factor, the compactness of the cargo or possible contamination with water or other products that may affect the weight.

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