Dunaújváros. The water level of the Danube has been low for quite some time now, which affects the fauna of the river, the environment near the river and also shipment by river including the logistics of the Ironworks. Capt. Vaso Janicic, Logistics Director of ISD DUNAFERR Zrt., gave us an interview while sailing on the Danube.
The Roman saying 'Navigare necesse est ...' (To sail is necessary ...) emphasizing the importance of trade and shipment by water is still valid today. The saying continues '... vivere non est necesse. ( ... to live is not)' The sentence is attributed to Pompeius, who is known to have said it to his sailors during a shipment of grain from Sicily to Rome in stormy sea. Of course, low water level of the Danube does not mean having to face such difficult situations but our voyage on Tuesday was another proof that today's forwarders do their jobs with due care and a great deal of responsibility. In a period of one year.s time the Danube is only navigable in 40 per cent of the time or even less. Limitations in navigation are imposed either because of icing or of high or low water. In order to ensure the safe supply of the raw materials required for the manufacture of base materials to DUNAFERR, logistics experts at the company are now focusing on eliminating consequences of the latter one (low water). We were privileged to have the opportunity to take part in a work process: sailing on boxer MS Péter, manoeuvring an empty barge out of the port and finally returning into the port with a laden barge pushed by the boxer.
Boxer MS Péter is an indispensable asset in the port in Dunaújváros, a core element in the operation of the port. We watched the crew performing their job in an absolutely professional way. In the photo: the boxer is returning to the port with a barge of 700 tons of black coal.
- When do you remember the Danube was last this low?
- Actually, the situation was much like this just a couple years ago, in December 2011. It did not last this long but the lowest water level measured at Dunaújváros was then -54 cm. Today we have measured -52 cm. (Editor's remark: the interview was made on 17th November.)
- Can you explain to us what this number means?
- It is a relation to the reference zero point, i.e. the water level is now fifty-two centimetres lower. The so-called zero point is defined at the lowest water level measured previously. It follows that when the water level is under zero . in the port, this is more than half a meter below the normal navigation level ., whether a river unit (vessel or barge) can pass or not depends on the draft of the particular river unit. The draft must hence be decreased, which means less cargo can be shipped. The water level is measured on a regular base. It was just a couple of weeks ago that, in order to ensure the required draft for the river units, the entrance to the port bay was dredged . a most time-consuming but very important job.
On our short voyage we were accompanied by Capt. Vaso Janicic, Logistics Director of ISD DUNAFERR Zrt., Managing Director of ISD PORTOLAN Kft.
- You say that the draft of a barge largely depends on the laden weight. As the draft differs in the different Danube sections, this must be a special problem that you must always pay attention to.
- That's correct. At the moment the water level at the entrance to the port bay is limited at max. 1.8 m. In other words, this is the maximum allowed draft of vessels and barges wishing to enter the port. Needless to say, this data only applies to our port. Currently, however, the water level is very low in other places along the Danube as well. The nearest most critical place is at Dunaföldvár, where the draft is now max. 1.6 m. Accordingly, river units shipping downstream (to the south) can only be loaded with this limitation. By the way, the situation is much worse to the north, in the upper Danube sections, in West Europe. The typical draft there (near Vienna, in Upper Austria and in Germany) is now 1.4 m. In addition, this year.s has been the lowest water level on the Rhine for many years. To sum up, if you want to ship products to the upper Danube sections today, you can only load river units with a draft of max. 1.4 m.
- Base materials can be supplied and finished products can be shipped in three different methods of transportation: by water, by rail and by road. In what way can the structure of these methods of transportation be changed so that carriage by land (rail/road) becomes more dominant?
- Raw material is supplied either by water (in barges) or by rail. As the strategic base materials arrive in big volumes as bulk cargo, they cannot be carried in trucks. It follows that base materials supply has no alternative methods of transport. At the moment we are having difficulties in coal supply because of the low water level. This raw material is shipped in barges from Constanta. Carriage by rail could well be an alternative but it is, on the one hand, much more expensive and, on the other hand, far less volumes can be carried by rail than by water.
- Finished products are typically shipped by road, aren't they?
- Yes, 60-70% of the finished products is shipped by road, 15-20% by rail and another 15-20% by water.
- Can you say a few words about the cooperation between carrier companies by rail, road and water? As actual water levels can be forecast well ahead, the available logistical capacities must be ordered accordingly in due time. How does this work?
- Each of these companies operates to realize business objectives of its own and cooperation between them must be coordinated by ISD PORTOLAN Kft. as a forwarding company. We have established a very good cooperation with the key players, in the first place, with Rail Cargo: we are in charge of coordination and they have always proved to be a reliable partner in our cooperation. We were able to decrease all the extra costs incurred during transshipment. As a rule, these costs are either shared or we try to get our partners to pay part of them. I must say, they are open for cooperation and they do their best to help us solve such problems.
- Blast furnace number 2 is going to be revamped soon and will be shut down for a long time. So that the production of finished products can remain at the same level, the volume of slab supply must be increased in this period. Can you tell us about the logistics steps taken by DUNAFERR to this end?
- ISD Corporation has decided to replace the missing quantity of slabs by slabs manufactured in its own plant in Alchevsk, the Ukraine. As we have been in a situation like this before, we do not anticipate big problems in logistics or in the organization of the shipment of slabs. We are ready for the job, regardless of the actual volume: be it 60-70 or even 90 thousand tons of slabs per month. Everything will be arranged accordingly and in due time.
Text by Zsolt Várkonyi, photos by Enikő Zsedrovits