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Decreasing water levels on Parana River threaten to further disrupt shipping

For at least the last year, water levels in the Parana River have been an issue, forcing carriers to reduce loads to avoid grounding in the shallow water. Now, as the annual dry season and the annual export season hit at the same time, the problem could worsen. Last year, a lack of rain caused the river to hit its lowest level in 50 years.

The Parana River starts in Brazil and flows through Argentina and Paraguay, more than 4,800 km. In Argentina, the inland Port of Rosario is the export hub for the country’s soy and corn crops. From Rosario, ships can sail directly to the Atlantic Ocean. If the water level at Rosario becomes too low to allow ships to fully load, then crops may have to be transported by truck to another port closer to the ocean, adding significantly to the transportation cost and time.

In fact, officials in Paraguay are already reporting that soybean barges have been stranded on the river.

Dredging in the area of the port has helped, but the contract for that work expired on 30 April and a new one has not yet been awarded. Unfortunately, the Argentine Minister of Transportation died recently, which complicates awarding of the contract. In the meantime, Jan De Nul, the Belgian company that held the contract, will continue to dredge the river until the government makes its decision. There is talk that the next contract should call for the dredging of a deeper, wider channel.

The river normally carries about 80% of Argentine grain exports, but ships are now loading 5,500 to 7,000 tonnes less due to the low water level, Guillermo Wade, head of the CAPyM Chamber of Port and Maritime Activities, said this week. Weather forecasts indicate that rainfall will be scarce for some months, meaning the water level in the river will continue to drop, putting at peril the 45 million tonnes of soy and 50 million tonnes of corn expected to be harvested this season, according to the Rosario grains exchange.

Kim Biggar

Kim Biggar started writing in the supply chain sector in 2000, when she joined the Canadian Association of Supply Chain & Logistics Management. In 2004/2005, she was project manager for the Government of Canada-funded Canadian Logistics Skills Committee, which led to her 13-year role as communications manager of the Canadian Supply Chain Sector Council. A longtime freelance writer, Kim has contributed to publications including The Forwarder, 3PL Americas, The Shipper Advocate and Supply Chain Canada.
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