Shippers Suffer Losses Due To Blocked Danube

Friday, October 01, 1999
The Danube will remain blocked by bombed Yugoslav bridges through the winter, with the cost of removal estimated at as much as $31.5 million, the Danube Commission announced, adding that private shippers are racking up losses far in excess of these figures. "Environmental damage of considerable consequence goes far beyond what it would cost the international community to clear the bridges and re-establish navigation," Hellmuth Strasser, head of the commission's secretariat, said. He added that re-establishing the river's shipping is the most difficult task the Danube Commission has faced since World War II. Experts estimate it will cost between $15.8 and $31.5 million to remove bridges bombed by NATO during its air campaign against Yugoslavia, Strasser said. He said one Ukrainian shipping company alone claimed it lost $42 million due to the blockage. Landlocked Hungary's state-owned shipping company, Mahart, reported lost revenues of about $4.1 million this year due to lack of accessibility to the Danube. The profit loss will be substantial, and the company will have to eliminate jobs and take other streamlining measures, according to Mahart financial director Sandor Szkladanyi. Eight Danube bridges within former Yugoslavia were bombed by NATO during the March-to-June raids to force a peace deal over Kosovo. None has yet been repaired, and shipping through the blocked stretches of the river has been halted. 11 Countries Stand To Lose Strasser said all 11 Danube commission countries stood to lose, and mentioned the case of Austria, where a large proportion of imports arrive via the Danube. He denied accusations made by shipping companies that Belgrade is using the Danube as a lever to get as much international aid for reconstruction as possible. "Cooperation with Yugoslavia is very good," Strasser said. Yugoslavia reportedly is prepared to have the bridges cleared only if international funds are provided to rebuild them. NATO powers, led by the U.S., have said there will be no aid to Yugoslavia as long as President Slobodan Milosevic remains in power. Strasser added that a detailed plan for clearing the waterway could be drafted by November, after which the Danube Commission could start looking for financing of the project. "The main problem is not technical," he said. "What the Yugoslavs need and the Danube Commission needs is cash." Once financing is in place, preparatory work should take a month and actual removal of the bombed bridges at least another three months, said Reinhard Vorderwinkler, leader of the commission's expert group that prepared the first report on damage and reconstruction. But he added that the onset of winter would certainly halt work, even if it starts at all before then. He said that before actual work could start, the Danube must be cleared of mines and warheads, which could only be done by suitably qualified personnel. Strasser said any final plan would have to include building at least one temporary bridge over the Danube in the north Yugoslav town of Novi Sad, where three of the eight destroyed bridges are located. Danube transport reached its peak in 1987 when the annual volume of goods transported was 100 million tons. The collapse of the Soviet Union and the embargo against Yugoslavia during the war in Bosnia brought transport to a standstill, and a slow recovery started in 1994, which brought up transport volume to 35-40 million tons in 1998.

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