It is new bad news for shipping, which is plagued by low water: No ships have been allowed to sail on the Middle Rhine since Wednesday night.

As a spokesman for the water police announced, a freighter with machine damage is blocking the fairway between St. Goar and Oberwesel in Rhineland-Palatinate.

According to the information, it is a push boat with three lighters.

The pushed convoy loaded with 1660 tons, which was on its way up the river, got stuck in a bottleneck where no ship could pass.

According to the water police, the push boat and the lighters are to be removed by support ships.

It is still unclear how long the Middle Rhine will remain closed to shipping.

"A cautious forecast is until noon," said the spokesman.

Water level on the Lower Rhine falls below zero

The water level on the Lower Rhine near Emmerich has meanwhile fallen below zero.

During the measurement on Wednesday morning at 5 a.m., the record low of minus two centimeters was measured, as the Waterways and Shipping Administration (WSV) announced via the Elwis portal.

In Emmerich, near the border with the Netherlands, a water level of zero centimeters was measured for the first time on Tuesday, undercutting the old record low from October 2018.

Despite the exceptional situation, shipping was still possible until the very end: The water level is not synonymous with the fairway depth, which is decisive for shipping.

This was recently just under two meters in Emmerich.

Federal Transport Minister Volker Wissing is concerned about the situation.

"We are in a situation in which the infrastructure is extremely challenged," said the FDP politician on ARD.

When asked whether this could lead to short-time work or similar serious consequences, he replied: "I hope not".

In recent decades, too little has been invested in the infrastructure - for example in the Rhine deepening, with which inland navigation can be kept running even when the water level is very low.

"We're going to do that now," said Wissing.

Wissing: Passenger trains can sometimes have to wait

He also defended plans to prioritize coal shipments by rail.

If there are shortages, as is currently the case, "then that means that you have to let the most important things go first".

"That means: priority for the most important transports - and this includes, for example, coal transports." A regulation is planned that will enable corresponding prioritization.

This could lead to even more jerking in the already tense passenger traffic on the rails.

"If it should happen that we have to activate the prioritization of coal transports, then it can happen that a passenger train also has to wait at the end," said Wissing.

“Because supplying the power plants has priority.

Nothing works without a stable power supply.”

German industry is warning of the devastating consequences for the economy in view of the record low water levels on the Rhine.

"The persistent dry period and the low water threaten the security of supply for industry," said the deputy general manager of the Federation of German Industries (BDI), Holger Loesch.

“Companies are preparing for the worst.

The already tense economic situation in the companies is getting worse.” It is only a matter of time before plants in the chemical or steel industry are shut down, mineral oils and building materials do not reach their destination or large-capacity and heavy transports are no longer possible.

Delivery bottlenecks, production cutbacks or even standstills and short-time work would be the result.