It's a delight for a ship-spotter but horror for a captain of a ship, a traffic jam in Kiel Fjord. How come that the world's busiest artificial waterway between Baltic and North Sea has apparently come to a halt?
Obviously, it is the combination of cost cuts for personnel and equipment and lack of investments by the German federal waterway authority WSA - quite a negligence not to keep up the locks to 'state of the art' and the domestic and international sea-traffic flowing normally.
Now, this compulsory break will cost ship owners, ship crews and traders quite a lot of time and money.
Waiting periods for up six hours at the Holtenau locks have made captains crazy but local spectators happy who haven't seen such a big bunch of different ships simultaneously.
What happened in the first place? Well, a failure of three out of four chambers in the night to Tuesday, August 14th, almost stopped the passage of ships going in and out of the almost 60 mile long canal, regular passage time: up to 10 hours.
Last Sunday morning at around 5am, one crucial underwater door-waggon for the sliding gate of the big southern chamber derailed. Thus, it wasn't possible to open the gate. The gate and two waggons should have been removed in a very time-consuming manner by Tuesday. Without a swimming-crane available at the location and no extra maintenance 'manpower' for a night-shift, the repair efforts were stopped on Monday evening, the local newspaper KN reported in its online edition.
Kiel Fjord has been subsequently filled with ships. Some of them changed course and took the route over Skagen (Skaw), Denmark, to the North Sea; well, quite a detour but at least with a new reliable time schedule for arrival at destination.
In Kiel, 4 to 6 ships have been currently waiting for one spot in the locks. One can imagine how the ship owners and captains there have gotten really, really sour by this information.
The bulk of transit toll fees, collected by the canal authority, for canal usage, pilots and steering personnel hasn't necessarily produced more convenience and quality 'en route' from Holtenau to Brunsbüttel at speeds of 6-9 mph. To the contrary, with ageing and 'wear and tear', the incidents at the locks in Brunsbüttel (North Sea) and Kiel-Holtenau (Baltic Sea) have occured more frequently.
With these recent major malfunctions and poor repair efforts at the locks, mainly based on austerity measures which have led to obviously irreversible attrition, the German federal government's canal authority doesn't really seem to handle this problem responsibly and professionally. The next failure might be pre-programmed.
Oh my, the reputation "Made in Germany" has gotten a big dent by this self-inflicted mess.
Keeping open this internationally most-relevent canal is crucial for trade in Europe and beyond, right?
Taking precautionary measures should be put on the to-do list immediately in order to prevent further mess-ups.
The regular canal traffic shall probably resume on Thursday, hopefully.
If you wanna make a "flawless" canal transit of 60 miles in 9 minutes, almost at jet's speed:
To get an idea about the ship traffic in Kiel Fjord and Kiel-Canal (between Holtenau Locks and Rendsburg)