Coal stocks at northwest European dry bulk terminals have risen to four-month highs as low river levels result in reduced barge shipments to inland plants.
Stocks at four key Amsterdam, Rotterdam and Antwerp dry bulk terminals were pegged this week at 7.1m tonnes, the highest since late May.
“Barge volumes are dropping due to lower water levels in the rivers,” said a source at one ARA terminal on Tuesday, noting “I think you will see the coal levels go up a bit [more] in the coming weeks”.
Water levels at Kaub – the Rhine’s main indication point – were seen last at 100 centimetres and were forecast to remain around this level until the weekend, according to official data.
When river levels drop below 200cm, barge operators reduce loads in order to navigate the shallower waters and can impose an incremental “low-water premium”, to recoup lost euro-per-tonne earnings.
“Reloading into barges [from stock] in recent weeks has been very [reduced] and storage levels are at a high level,” said a source at another terminal.
“We still have some space available, but it’s challenging,” he added.
Nevertheless, weather forecasts show rains next week will likely help to replenish Germany’s rivers.
German utility ENBW said the reduced barge shipments were “not a problem so far”, while RWE said it was not experiencing any curtailments.
And a spokesman for the 2 GW Mannheim coal-fired power plant said the supply situation for imported hard coal was currently “non-critical”.
In April, ARA inventories rose to their highest since Montel began collating the data in 2012, of 7.27m tonnes.
Meanwhile, the Central Commission for the Navigation of the Rhine said in its recently published 2019 report that changing climatic conditions required changes to the current inland shipping model.
“Even without climate change, strong fluctuations of navigation conditions…will occur in the future,” it said, pointing to an 11% decline in total goods transported along the Rhine last year, against 2017, to 165m tonnes.
“The main reason was the low water levels,” it said, adding this had a profound impact on freight rates.
“In the Rhine basin, [dry bulk] freight rates… increased in October and November 2018 to levels that were around 2.5 times higher than normal.”
It said it was therefore necessary to partly “rethink” logistical concepts, including the size and the design of the vessels.
“[Such concepts] in place today… tend to make inland navigation very vulnerable towards climate change,” it added.