North and Baltic Sea: Increased Shipping Times due to Kiel-Canal Disruption

North and Baltic Sea: Increased Shipping Times due to Kiel-Canal Disruption

Impacts on Shipping

Shipping traffic in Northern Europe has been significantly delayed since February 20, following the collision of a container vessel with a lock gate that serves as an entry point to the world’s busiest man- made waterway which links the North Sea to the Baltic Sea.

German media sources have since reported that the accident occurred due to a technical defect, causing the Portuguese container vessel Akacia to collide at high speed with a gate of the Kiel-Holtenau locks and resulting in severe damages to both the ship and one of the large locks in the canal. As a result of the accident, one large lock chamber remains out of commission. Only one large lock is in operation, slowing passage through the area. In the aftermath of the incident, waiting times for ships passing through the canal rose to up to six hours. An assessment carried out on February determined that the damage to the structure was more extensive than originally thought; it may, however, take months for the repairs to be completed.

The Kiel Canal is a vital maritime connection between the Port of Hamburg and the Baltic Sea and any disruption along the way may impact the port’s business. Sources at the Port of Hamburg indicated that if transit capacity at the Kiel-Holtenau locks remains limited for a longer period, the lost cost-benefit of passing through the Kiel Canal may prompt shipping lines to reroute vessels to the Baltic Sea via the Strait of Skagerrak instead. In this case, a temporary shift in trade lanes would result in the Port of Hamburg, which handles about 1.7 million TEU from or to the Baltic Sea per year, seeing fewer port calls and losing business to other Northern European ports such as Antwerp and Rotterdam.


The Kiel Canal is the busiest artificial waterway in the world, linking the North Sea at Brunsbüttel to the Baltic Sea at Kiel-Holtenau. 30,000 ships use the canal each year to transport containers and dry bulk cargo between Northern Europe and the rest of the world. 2013 estimates indicated that a passage from the North Sea to the Baltic Sea through the Kiel Canal saves about 400 kilometers, 24 hours and EUR 70,000 per ship.

Customers should expect increased waiting times for barge and ocean shipments between the North and Baltic Sea, as well as to the Port of Hamburg and the Baltic Sea, until repair works of the lock are completed. Intermodal shipping solutions with rail or truck services from Antwerp and Rotterdam to Hamburg may reduce delays resulting from the long-term disruption.

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