Hungary limits boat traffic on the River Danube

By John Leo Moberg

Hungary’s new law limiting the number of cargo barges allowed on the Danube has been in effect since the end of April to the annoyance of the Austrian Chamber of Commerce.

The limit on cargo barges on the River Danube in Hungary has been in effect since the end of April with Hungary citing environmental reasons. Instead of nine barges in a pushing unit there must now be only four – and with less cargo onboard.

The law might have been put in place to prevent the excess of barge traffic being slowed down and stopped by the historically low water levels. In 2011, several “bottleneck” shallows prevented effective barge traffic, and the Hungarian stretch of the Danube was only navigable during 170-180 days per year. The limit of barges would allow the barges that remain to move more freely.

An EU agreement also directs Hungary to guarantee unrestricted navigability of the Danube for 300-310 days a year by 2014.

The Austrian Chamber of Commerce has evaluated the Hungarian law, and say it is incomprehensible and counterproductive. The EU has set the target for barge traffic on the Danube for 2020 to an increase by 20 per cent, and with the new Hungarian law, this target is now even more distant, they say.

Pro Danube International (PDI), are also against the law, claiming that the capacity loss is more than 30 per cent. According to them, what the Hungarian Danube needs is better infrastructure maintenance to manage water levels and barge traffic.

Ore and coal transports are now going to have to use trucks or trains through Hungary, and the Chamber of Commerce complains that this will only increase the level of environmental damages as opposed to transporting the materials on the Danube – which is the most environmentally friendly way to do it.

The EU should be informed of this and act, according to the Chamber of Commerce.