Germany will shut a canal linking the river Rhine to Hamburg, Europe’s second largest container port, late Friday night as the coldest February temperatures across Europe in almost three decades bring barge shipping to a halt across much of the continent’s inland waterway system.
The closure of the Rhine-Herne canal at 10 p.m. local time because of thick ice also will cut off Berlin from the German inland waterway network. A second waterway linking the Rhine to the canal system was closed on Monday.
Prolonged closure of the Rhine would quickly impact deep-sea port traffic and intermodal shipments. The river, Europe’s busiest inland waterway, handles well over a million containers a year as well as iron ore, coal and grain.
Shipping also is being disrupted seriously on long stretches of the 1,785-mile-long Danube River, which passes through 10 countries and links Germany with southeastern Europe and Ukraine.
Romania, which started closing part of the river earlier this month, had shut down 440 miles by Friday, mostly affecting the transportation of bulk commodities and oil products. Romania’s Black Sea port of Constanta, at the mouth of the Danube, froze over last week.
Austria, Croatia, Hungary, Serbia and Bulgaria also have stopped shipping on the Danube.
The impact of the freeze on the continent’s road, rail and air freight transport has been limited because it is mainly affecting the less economically developed regions of southern Europe and the Balkans. But this could change — the cold snap, which began two weeks ago, could last until the end of February, according to forecasters.
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