Rhine Still Blocked by Acid Ship

A section of Germany’s Rhine river remained closed to traffic Friday after a ship carrying nearly 2,400 tonnes of sulphuric acid capsized, as hopes faded for two men missing.

“Traffic on this section of the river remains suspended due to the ship (accident) but also due to rising waters on the Rhine,” the deputy head of the regional Waterways and Shipping Office, Florian Krekel, told AFP.

The German-flagged vessel, the Waldhof, ran into trouble Thursday but its tanks appeared to be intact and tests detected no leakage of the highly corrosive acid into the river, Krekel confirmed.

He said as the rescue operation entered its second day that the odds of finding the two missing crew members, a German and a Czech national, alive in the bracingly cold water were “practically zero”.

It was not immediately clear what caused the incident, which occurred near a celebrated rock outcropping known as “Lorelei” above a narrow point in the river where the current is very strong and accidents are not uncommon.

Traffic on the river, a major European shipping artery, was suspended immediately following the accident, which took place around 5:00 am (0400 GMT) Thursday near Sankt Goar, northwest of the city of Mainz in western Germany.

The Waldhof was carrying sulphuric acid loaded at Ludwigshafen from BASF, the world’s biggest chemical group, and heading north towards the sea for the Belgian port of Antwerp.

Two members of the crew could be rescued but helicopters equipped with infrared cameras circled the area in vain in search of the other two men.

It was unclear how long the Rhine would remain closed for traffic or how long it would take to haul the ship from the water. Krekel noted the operation would be delicate due to its sensitive cargo.

Heavy rain and melting snow in western Germany have led waterways including the Rhine to swell in recent days.

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