Three questions: Michael Heinz
“The Rhine is running out of water” is how newspapers described the situation in the fall of 2018. The extremely low water levels had clear consequences, not only for inland waterway transportation, but also for many companies based along the Rhine. How dependent are companies like BASF on the Rhine and what requirements must be met to ensure ships can traverse it in the future? Online Reporter talked to site director and member of the Board of Executive Directors Michael Heinz.
1865, when BASF was founded, its location on the Rhine was not chosen on a whim. However, over the ensuing 150 years, the world of logistics has changed dramatically. How dependent on the Rhine are companies like BASF nowadays?
Inland waterway transport and rail transport are the preferred means of conveyance for the chemical industry. At the Ludwigshafen site, for example, 40 percent of all raw materials and goods are transported to and from the company by inland vessels. These are mostly naphtha and gas, which are transported from the Rotterdam and Antwerp harbors to Ludwigshafen, while containers with our products are also shipped to Antwerp and Rotterdam. The Rhine is also vital for the cooling of our plants. This shows the importance of the Rhine for the industry right up to the present day, despite all the other options available. The low water level last year once again highlighted the importance of the river, as the financial blow we suffered in the final quarter of the year in particular was immense: It totaled around €250 million due to production downtimes and increased freight costs because we had to use alternative solutions.
Low water levels are definitely an issue when it comes to the Rhine. What else will we have to deal with in the future?
Germany is largely dependent on the condition of its transport infrastructure, and the lack of investment on the Rhine is not without consequence. Bridges are closed, canals and locks are no longer in operation and the connection between sea harbors and inland harbors are not to the standards required to meet the demands of the increasing export traffic. In this regard, we have a lot of catching up to do, and we have to do it quickly! According to a forecast by the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure, the inland waterway transportation of goods will increase by 23percent between 2010 and 2030. The German Economic Institute believes that the country’s transport infrastructure is not prepared for this increase. However, we rely on the Rhine being a reliable shipping option.
What is required for this?
From a BASF standpoint, it is vital to quickly implement the project named “Safeguarding the navigability of the Rhine from Basel to Rotterdam”. The project has the objective of extending the depth of the shipping lane between Mainz and St. Goar from 1.9 m to 2.1 m, a goal which will be achieved not by digging a deeper lane, but by naturally restricting its width. This means that a lot more goods can be transported via inland waterways, a solution which makes sense from both an economic and ecological standpoint. The project has been approved and is to be implemented by the Waterways and Shipping Office (WSA) by 2030. However, the project is already experiencing delays, as the WSA does not have enough staff, which is why the government needs to step in. Our demand: The WSA needs to be better equipped. In addition, more financial resources need to be provided for the restoration of bridges and hydraulic structures, while project planning also needs to be improved: We need investment planning with clear goals for transportation policies, a type of overarching concept for transportation policies. The focus here should be to use digitalization to intelligently link transport options and further optimize them.