Germany's Rhine Closes to Shipping

The Associated Press
Tuesday, March 27, 2007; 2:13 PM

BERLIN -- Some 200 ships were backed up along Germany's Rhine River as crews worked Tuesday to remove more than two dozen containers blocking one of the country's busiest commercial shipping routes.

The German ship Excelsior lost 31 of its 103 containers, weighing up to 40 tons apiece, on Sunday afternoon. By Tuesday, one had been retrieved, and a 12-mile stretch of the Rhine around Cologne remained closed to shipping.

Removal efforts were concentrated on three containers loaded with industrial glue _ though authorities said there was no danger of significant environmental damage.

Visiting the site on Tuesday, German Transport Minister Wolfgang Tiefensee said he hoped traffic could resume by Friday.

About 200 ships were awaiting the end of the recovery operation to resume their journeys, police said.

A spokesman for prosecutors in Duisburg, Detlef Nowosch, said a crack in the cargo ship's hull is suspected to have led to Sunday's accident. Initial investigations suggest that water may have leaked in through the crack, he said. The ship then listed and shed containers.

The Rhine, which originates in the Swiss Alps, runs for well over 600 miles _ much of that through Germany _ before discharging into the North Sea in the Netherlands.

© 2007 The Associated Press