More than 300 barges are still trapped on the River Rhine in Germany more than two weeks after a ship carrying 2,400 tons of sulfuric acid capsized in a narrow sharp bend in Europe's busiest inland waterway.
The river has been closed to shipping from Mainz to Koblenz, disrupting container and bulk cargo traffic between Europe's largest ports, Rotterdam and Antwerp, and the German and Swiss hinterland.
Ships have been allowed to travel upstream past the wreck of the barge, but authorities ruled it is too dangerous for vessels to travel downstream as they risk ramming into the hulk of the sunken Waldhof.
Hopes the waterway will be opened within a week rose Jan. 27 after engineers who drilled into the Waldhof found one of its tanks was empty suggesting it had not been fully laden while a second tank contained only acid, not hydrogen.
Road and rail traffic was stopped earlier this week amid fears the wrecked barge Waldhof might blow up either because of ignition of hydrogen or the sulphuric acid reacting with river water when rescuers conducted test drills.
Owners of the trapped barges are losing up to $3,000 a day per vessel and hundreds of containers have missed their connection with deep sea vessels in Rotterdam and Antwerp.
The Waldhof, which was chartered by German chemical company BASF to transport sulphuric acid from its plant in Ludgwigshafen to its facility in Antwerp, capsized Jan. 13 near the famous Lorelei Rock south of Koblenz.
Two of the barge's four crewmembers are still missing.
The Rhine, which flows to Rotterdam from the Swiss Alps, handles around 170 million tons of cargo a year, including more than 1 million ocean containers. Around 80 percent of Germany's inland shipping traffic uses the river, including vessels sailing from other rivers.
Salvors plan to pump out the cargo of the Waldhof, which is being held in place by four floating cranes and cables, into two barges standing by. It will then be raised by the barge-mounted cranes.
-- Contact Bruce Barnard at email@example.com.