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Lock worker strikes on German river canal systems hit shipping


Strikes by union-organized lock workers on several key German waterwaycanal systems began at 0600 CET (0400 GMT) Monday morning, halting bargetraffic through the systems, a spokesman at German service workers' unionVer.di, which called for the strikes, said Monday morning.

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The first strikes block shipping from the German Rhine through allimportant tributary and connecting waterway canal systems in the northwesternGerman state of North Rhine-Westphalia which borders the Netherlands and inthe southwestern German state of Baden-Wuerttemberg which borders withSwitzerland, the Alp source of the Rhine.

River canal system lock workers in the remaining 10 states ofpre-reunification West Germany are to join the strikes starting Tuesday,affecting such key Rhine tributary links as the Main River-Danube Canal linksto the German Danube and the Danube's locks system.

Locks in former East Germany and its Elbe River and linking canalsystems to Berlin and Brandenburg may participate in the walkout action laterthough the recent flood disaster on those waterways may be limited, accordingto Ver.di.

The walkouts were called by Ver.di to initially run through Sunday July14, but may continue depending on months-long efforts to reach a settlementfor workers with Germany's Federal Transport Ministry's planned cost-cuttingreform of the country's aging waterway canal systems.

The strikes are creating major logistic planning snarls for shippingenterprises that have been hard hit by less business and rising costs duringthe last two years' general economic downturn.

"We're working long, long hours, including weekends, to line up alternate delivery arrangements for customers," said a Hamburg shipping agent.

"It's a nightmare as I have some barges that can't move," said a trader.

Traders said the impact on wholesale product prices in Rotterdam remainedminimal for now, even if they fell last week.

Rotterdam diesel barges were assessed by Platts at front-month 0.1%gasoil futures plus $13.50/mt, the lowest premium since February.

"It will depend on how long it takes place but I didn't expect a massivemove," said the trader.

The planned reform entails among other measures a reduction of 25% ofthe country's present 12,500 lock workers force.

The German industry's inland waterway shipping industry's lobby BDBstrongly opposes the union strike and the reform.

"The dissatisfaction with the reform that has been discussed for overtwo years is now to be carried out on the back of shipping and wholelogistics industry," said BDB president Georg Hoette in a statement.

Shipping companies are "massively angered," he said, adding that thedevelopments come on the heels of last month's major flooding and theresulting disruption to shipping.

--Robert Ingersoll,; Olivier Lejeune,; Charles Goldner,

--Edited by Jeremy Lovell,