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DUISBURG, Germany-Freezing cold and lack of insurance may bring some European transport companies to their knees.
With temperatures in some areas reaching 30 below zero Fahrenheit, many inland rivers have become impassable, causing shipping losses estimated at 3 million DM ($1.9 million) a day in Germany alone. The cold spell began Dec. 20, with the most serious cold beginning Dec. 30. Rivers remain frozen, and warming is not expected until this week at the earliest.
The German insurance association said it expects property damage to exceed 300 million DM ($191.9 million) compared with 40 million DM ($25.6 million) in normal winters.
More than half of Germany's 3,000-ship inland fleet has been marooned since Dec. 28, says Axel Mauersberger, director of the Assn. of German Inland Shipping, a business association and lobby for German inland shipping companies.
With his prediction of losses for each company ranging from 2,000 DM ($1,279) to 5,000 DM ($3,198) per day, Mr. Mauersberger expects many transport businesses to go broke. "A devastating winter last year has left companies with no reserves. It's going to be bad for them," he said.
Mr. Mauersberger was critical of insurers for the limited availability of affordable business interruption coverage for companies whose business is frozen.
Inland river transports can buy coverage against the loss of business from frozen waterways, but rates are "astronomical," he said.
So far, no companies have lost barges to ice. Marine insurance would cover such a loss, but only if the ship did not attempt to move when ice is on the river.
Insurers admit they are reluctant to insure Germany's inland fleet for business interruption. Only a few mutual insurance companies offer business interruption coverage to inland shipping companies. "It's nearly impossible to calculate risk of this kind," said Hartmut Redes, an executive board member of Hamburg-based insurer Nord-Deutsche Versicherungs A.G.
As a result, shipping companies fear bankruptcy should the winter weather continue.
The German Office of Shipping and Hydrography expects more ice in the North Sea and the Baltic Sea where coastal ice is now more than 10 inches thick. The northern German harbors of Toenning and Schleswig are closed and several islands are now inaccessible by water. For the first time in 33 years, the Main River-a major German tributary-near Frankfurt threatens to freeze.
Meanwhile air, sea and rail services have also been disrupted in many countries. In Italy's Alpine region, temperatures fell to minus 30 degrees Fahrenheit. Roads, including the main highways north from Rome, were blocked by snow and flights were delayed by freezing rain and snow at the Rome's central Fiumicino Airport.
A total of 288 flights have been canceled due to ice and snow since the cold spell began. While international flights remained unaffected, cancellations affected many domestic flights and inner European flights. Airlines and airports do not have business interruption coverage.
In France, 30 trains were stopped when overhead electrical lines froze. On Jan. 3 the train service between Marseille and Lyon was canceled due to ice. Service resumed Tuesday.
Bad weather claims in the United Kingdom currently are running at normal levels for the time of year, said a spokeswoman for the Assn. of British Insurers, but while the freeze continues, claims most likely will remain steady. U.K. insurers are anticipating numerous claims after the thaw, she said, though there are no indications how much it will eventually cost.
Deaths have been reported in nearly every country in Europe, from Russia to Spain.
Temperatures in Poland fell as low as 35 degrees below zero. In Poland more than 40 people have died. The total European death toll has reached 169.