Water depths on the Rhine River in Germany have risen thanks to recent rain and are approaching normal levels after falling this summer to lows that disrupted transportation, vessel brokers and commodity traders said on Monday.
But, since dry weather was forecast for much of this week, levels could fall again and the picture had not yet normalized, brokers said.
The Rhine is an important shipping route for such commodities as grains, minerals, coal and oil products, including heating oil.
Weeks of high temperatures and scant rainfall in August lowered water levels in the river, Germany's commercial artery, causing delays to shipping and pushing up freight costs. There were fears the disruption could knock half a percentage point off economic growth in Europe's biggest economy this year.
But the reference water level at the chokepoint of Kaub WL-KAUB near Koblenz rose to 1.39 meters on Monday. That compared with the level of only 32 centimeters in August. Vessels need a Kaub reference level of about 1.5 metres to navigate fully loaded.
Shallow water after this summer's heatwave and drought compelled some freight vessels to operate only about 25% full in August, increasing costs for cargo owners, which needed more vessels to get supplies delivered.
Vessels were now able to sail with considerably larger loads, and prices for river transport had fallen back from their peaks, brokers said.
Spot prices for a liquid tanker barge from Rotterdam to Karlsruhe, south of Kaub, fell to about 65 euros a tonne on Monday from about 69 euros a tonne late last week.
Prices had hit peaks of around 118 a tonne in August, up from only around 20 euros in June, before water levels fell, brokers said.
(Reuters - Reporting by Michael Hogan; Editing by Bradley Perrett)