BONN · A Rhine river cruise in the sunshine - who wouldn’t like that? But the heat of the past few days affects the guests of the Bonn river cruises (BPS). The low water levels in the Rhine don’t cause any problems though.
„I’ll go up to have a look, you better stay inside“, an elderly lady advises her friend. The two women are taking part in an afternoon offer for seniors aboard the Filia-Rheni. Four hours on the water during the hottest hours of the day. Underneath the sundial behind the captain’s cabin there’s a light breeze. Here, the heat is bearable. But the white tables at the bow of the ship, where normally photographers and curious guests take a seat, stay empty.
Captain Clemens Schmitz has started the engine a long time before departure. Operating at full capacity, the air conditioning gets the salon cooled down enough, so that coffee and apple tart taste good again. The land power connection, which is used by four ships of the BPS at the Alte Zoll, does not suffice. „It would burn through“, is Schmitz convinced.
So the fleet of ships uses an innovative fuel which replaces the smelly sooty ship diesel with fluid natural gas. The so-called GTL fuel (Gas to Liquid) is only being made by Shell in a special plant in Qatar. „It burns cleaner than common diesel - which is based on mineral oil - and thus produces less local emissions of nitrogen oxides, NOx, sulphur oxides and Sox“, the Dutch refinery giant writes on its website.
Environmentally friendly fuel
Schmitz was impressed after a test run around Easter: „The engine works smoother and isn’t loud at all anymore“, he says. Black smoke and diesel smells are a thing of the past now. And it’s not even necessary to convert the engines. Buses, ferries and trucks could be operated more environmentally friendly, Schmitz thinks. The higher price of about 10 cents more per litre is worth it, he and his BPS colleagues think. The only draw back do far: The fuel produced in the Middle East is only available in Arnheim, where Shell has a warehouse for it.
But the captain is more worried by the situation of the Rhine in the coming weeks. The absent rain has minimised the river considerably. The ships’ channel is only about 2.70 meters deep at the moment, 1.1 metres less than the official Bonn levels. For the BPS ships this doesn’t pose a problem here. But the bottle necks are the jetties outside the channel. „We have reacted with new, longer piers and we got diggers to work on the ground“, Schmitz explains. But the stops in Mondorf, Bad Breisig and Sankt Goarshausen near the Loreley cannot be accessed anymore already. Soon, Bad Honnef and Unkel might join that list. The main stops in Königswinter, Linz and the Late Zoll in Bonn have not been affected yet.
Rheinnixe zigzags up the river
The Rheinnixe is struggling more, because it has to navigate while zigzagging across the stream to reach its pier at the Beuel side during low river levels. „We have to go backwards in Beuel for a while already“, says director Max Dornau. So far the service runs mostly on schedule, despite many potential guests avoiding boat trips in the heat, he says.
As most people regard the BPS ships as cruise boats and not a means of transport, the cooperative remains relaxed upon this development. The continuous good weather has brought an increase of 10% of visitors in comparison to last year, estimates Schmitz.
The heat wave shouldn’t continue for much longer though, because „people might not leave their homes anymore then“. During the record-breaking summer in 2003, after a few weeks the ships were operated practically empty, and not just on the sundeck like now.
(Original text: Martin Wein; Translation: Mareike Graepel)