Baltic Sea rivers, lakes and canals impose navigational challenges
Baltic Sea region waterways differ considerably from heavily used rivers such as the Rhine or the Danube. The rivers Odra, Vistula or Nemunas as well as the Saimaa canal are comparatively narrow, shallow and winding. This is partly due to the fact that the rivers were not strongly engineered for shipping purposes during the past decades. Ice covers rivers, lakes and canals for several months a year. It is inefficient or even not possible to use standard modern river barges to navigate these waterways.
Technical solutions are in place in the Baltic Sea region to overcome such navigation challenges, but they are not yet widely exchanged and used. “In the EMMA project we bring experts from the different rivers and lakes together to find the best solutions for their individual challenges,” says the project coordinator Stefan Breitenbach from Hafen Hamburg Marketing. Breitenbach has a lot of practical experience with cargo shipping. Trained as a ship broker he organised the cargo of ships for several years, then went on to study economics until he started working for Port of Hamburg Marketing.
Swedish pick up ship convoy concept from southern Baltic countries
One such solution is the push-barge convoy: Up to six small, flat-bottomed barges without self-propeller are lined up in front of a small but strong push unit ship. Such convoys are commonly used on the rivers Elbe in Germany and Odra along the Polish-German border. They are much more flexible than a typical, long Rhine barge for example. When meeting a lock, the barges can be decoupled to be lifted one after the other.
Swedish partners have successfully tested a barge container transport on canals and lakes in the hinterland of Gothenburg within the EMMA project. Johan Lantz, CEO of Avatar Logistics in Norrköping, sums up the test: “I think we have managed to prove to the industry that the barge convoy system is a reliable alternative to truck transportation”. “In Sweden, our long-term aim is to shift several thousand containers per year from road to inland waterway”, says Johan Axiø of the Swedish Transport Administration. The barge convoy approach might also help to put into place new shipping services on Nemunas river in Lithuania - currently there is a lack of transportation means for heavy goods produced in Kaunas, the industrial centre of Lithuania, to the seaport in Klaipeda.