Peter Jedlicka, managing director and shareholder of the Vienna Multinaut Donaulogistik, is concerned that freight transport on inland waterways is not being given the attention it deserves. In an interview with the ITJ correspondent Josef Müller, he explains why shippers should use the Danube more.
Moving eastbound from Austria, the Danube is only modestly utilised, with just 15% of available capacity being used. Peter Jedlicka, managing director and co-owner of Vienna Multinaut Donaulogistik, is convinced that this is a mistake. «It would be a great benefit to shippers, boatmen, and of course also for transport policy if more use were made of the river for freight transport.» Every euro invested in inland waterway transport is repaid as a positive return on investment, he says. For this to happen, however, there needs to be some investment in the expansion of the Danube waterway and in infrastructure.
While there is some progress in his own country with respect to the maintenance and development of the Danube, the picture is far less positive for boatmen and shippers along other parts of the river. Hungary, Serbia and Romania have reported that they do not have the necessary financial resources to ensure the availability of the Danube to shipping on as many days of the year as possible.
Unsafe conditions in Bulgaria
Of particular concern is the precarious situation in Bulgaria, where there are currently no public funds available for the maintenance of the river. Shipping conditions are therefore unsafe there and this in turn prevents some shippers from using the port of Constanta (Romania) to transport their loads to the hinterland, as there is no guarantee that the loads will arrive in time. Instead, their shipments may be subject to hold-ups due to shortcomings on the infrastructure side in Bulgaria. In fact, inland waterways are eminently suited for transporting mass products such as grain, raw materials or project cargo.
Jedlicka calls barges «mobile warehouses». Their profitability improves with higher capacity utilisation. Currently, 80% of Multinaut’s freight is sent to western Europe. The volume sent to the east is just 20%. Jedlicka’s aim is to achieve a 50:50 ratio. In the shipments to the west, for example, the load travels by water all the way to Rotterdam (the Netherlands). Onward shipment across the North Sea to the UK is no problem from there and is organized from Vienna itself if the customer so demands. In addition to the traditional bulk transport business, the company is also active in the project business, which accounts for around 10% of its total volume.
Ships carrying Multinaut loads carry around 100,000 t of cereals from Hungary to Constanta every year, for example. In order to fully utilise shipping capacity, Multinaut is encouraging handlers to combine several loads. According to Jedlicka, a 300 t load justifies the incorporation of inland waterway shipping as part of the transport chain: «From this tonnage onwards, transport by ship becomes profitable to a freight forwarder.»