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Christian Friis Bach

Bach's Blog

The Executive Secretary's Blog

Five years ago, a tank vessel called the Waldhof containing over 2,000 tonnes of sulphuric acid capsized on the Rhine. Two crewmembers died and two were injured. The accident happened near the Loreleifelse at a bend in the Rhine with strong currents and the scene of other accidents in the past. 900 tonnes of sulphuric acid leaked into the Rhine and an additional 800 tonnes were drained into the river under controlled conditions as part of the salvage operation. 

The Rhine was only fully reopened to navigation a month later. This was the most serious obstruction of the Rhine in post-war history with total damage estimated at some 50 million euros. 

You may remember the story of the Waldhof. However, given the sheer volume of chemicals shipped through rivers and lakes in Europe every year, one might wonder why we don’t hear about this kind of accidents more often.  

The answer is because of the safety regulations outlined in the European Agreement concerning the International Carriage of Dangerous Goods by Inland Waterways (ADN), which turned fifteen years old on 26 May 2015. 

The opening of the Main-Danube Canal linking the Rhine and the Danube in 1992 made it clear that it would now be necessary to regulate the carriage of dangerous goods with a single regulation between the Rhine and the Black Sea and, further, on Ukrainian and Russian rivers.  The transition from a river basin to a pan-European approach can be considered a successful example of the development of international regulations. The Central Commission for the Navigation of the Rhine and the Danube Commission cooperated actively with UNECE in developing this new Agreement, which came into force on 29 February 2008.

Today the agreement has eighteen Contracting Parties, from France, Belgium and the Netherlands to Poland, Romania, the Russian Federation and Ukraine. While other continents such as South America are applying aspects of the ADN, I encourage all countries with significant inland waterway routes to use this agreement as a blueprint to unify their international inland waterway regulation in harmony with their road and rail shipping regulation.  

Contracting parties to the ADN apply its provisions both to domestic and international traffic, and this has allowed the high level of safety and environment protection previously provided on the Rhine to be introduced on all major river basins in Europe. After the Waldhof incident, contracting parties adopted a number of amendments to further increase safety. The last amendments became applicable on 1 January this year.

An incident similar to the Waldhof has not been reported since 2011. Nevertheless, contracting parties must remain vigilant to anticipate new challenges in terms of safety, prevention of pollution, or simply economic developments. It is only through the mobilization of all parties concerned that we can continue to make this type of transport safer for the workers, the industries and the environment.   


If you wonder why the animal accompanying my blog is a cow, it is because cows are fascinating animals; the cows of our host country, Switzerland, are famous for their quality; and because I am still a farmer, and miss the cows I had in Denmark. Now I got one back.