Locked Out: Disrepair Forces Closure of Vital Shipping Lane
The Kiel Canal, one of Europe's most vital shipping lanes, was shut down this week when two neglected locks broke down. The closure threatens to cause major disruption to shipping in Northern Europe, but Germany's Transport Ministry has promised rapid repairs.
It's the world's most heavily trafficked man-made shipping lane, but since Wednesday few ships have been seen on the 100-kilometer (62-mile) long Kiel Canal, which cuts through the northern German state of Schleswig-Holstein to form a roughly 450-kilometer shortcut between the North and Baltic Seas.
As the Süddeutsche noted, the shipping lane was planned during the 19th century under Kaiser Wilhelm in order to ensure that ships "could get from the Baltic Sea to the North Sea without having to pass by Danish canons." The canal first opened in 1895, and, with relations far friendlier today, it forms a vital link for trade within the European Union and to Russia.
35,000 Passages a Year
It is also of enormous importance to Hamburg, Europe's second-largest port behind Rotterdam. One out of three container ships that is processed in the city travels through the Kiel Canal as it continues on to the Baltic states and Russia.
State politicians have slammed German Transport Minister Peter Ramsauer for not taking action sooner. "We're making ourselves the laughing stock of the world," Schleswig-Holstein Economics Minister Reinhard Meyer said.
The two large locks that are closed are located in Brunsbüttel, where the canal meets the North Sea at its western end. Since Wednesday, only ships of a length of 125 meters (410 feet) or less, 20.5 meters in width and a depth of maximum of 6.5 meters can still navigate the canal. Given that most modern container ships plying the world's waters start at around 294 meters in length, that excludes most traffic. Last year alone, around 35,000 ships (including smaller ones) and 104 million metric tons of goods made the passage through the canal, according to German news agency DPA.
Officials hope to reopen the canal to larger ships again in two weeks. In the meantime, large container ships, the heart of the local economy in Hamburg, will have to make an expensive, 450-kilometer detour through Skagerak, Denmark. The Süddeutsche Zeitung estimates it will cost a shipping company 70,000 more for each ship than it would to travel through the canal.
dsl -- with wires
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