Shipping traffic briefly halted on Rhine as cargo vessel breaks down

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Several large ships were blocked for several hours on the Rhine river in western Germany after a cargo vessel broke down.

Traffic was temporarily halted on a key stretch of the river on Wednesday been Sankt Goar and Oberwesel, near the cities of Mainz and Koblenz.

A 190-metre-long ship was stranded near a narrow river bottleneck and a reference depth gauge, making it impossible for other ships to pass.

Traffic on the stretch resumed on Thursday as the damaged vessel was towed away, according to German police.

The blockage evoked memories of when a huge cargo ship became stuck in the Suez Canal in March 2021, disrupting global shipping traffic.

Ships on the Rhine are already facing critical water levels, which have fallen to just 40 centimetres amid a drought in Europe. The dry conditions have already made it more and more difficult for large ships to navigate the Rhine and some captains have been told to carry less cargo.

The German shipping industry has already suffered from the halting of Russian gas exports and soaring energy prices amid the war in Ukraine.

Around 4% of freight is transported by sea in Germany, including on the Rhine, which also flows through Switzerland, France, and the Netherlands.

The river has also become more important as the German government turns to coal to reduce its dependency on Russian gas. Several large power stations are located along the Rhine.