The Danube: A Stream of Energy. This year’s motto of the Danube Business Talks on 10th and 11th October in Vienna was versatile on purpose. The Danube – a source of energy, tourism magnet, leisure paradise and natural area – represents at the same time the lifeline of a dynamically developing transport economy that is entering new markets and addressing innovative sectors. The current focus: biomass and bioenergy. In the framework of the third edition of the business platform successfully organised by viadonau, an international expert audience came together to discuss how to make better use of the strengths of the waterway. This year the passenger shipping sector was represented for the very first time. Federal Minister Norbert Hofer and Désirée Oen, EU coordinator for the Rhine Danube corridor, were there to accept corresponding requests and requirements of industry stakeholders.
In order to ensure the added value, a development of the Danube River in a predictive and integrative way is essential. Therefore international cooperation is of immense importance. Under the umbrella of the European Strategy for the Danube area and in the frame of the National Action programme of the Austrian Federal Ministry of Transport, Innovation and Technology, several initiatives and projects like FAIRway Danube and Danube Stream were started to harmonise maintenance standards in a common way. "Nobody is able to face the challenges along the Danube on his own", Federal Minister Norbert Hofer said to the expert audience of 200 persons at the Danube Business Talks in his welcome speech and pointed out: "The promotion of an efficient and sustainable European transport network can succeed only in an international common effort. To take this forward is one clearly defined goal of the Austrian EU presidency." Also Désirée Oen, EU coordinator for the Rhine-Danube corridor, mentioned that at European level the Danube has long become a priority. The Danube is an exceptional tourism magnet that attracted 1.3 million passengers (+2.8%) in 2017. This positive trend can only continue if the flow stays ecologically intact and, at the same time, operational in terms of transport. International projects like FAIRway Danube for a harmonisation of information services related to fairway data should contribute ensuring a reliable decision making basis for planning inland waterway transports along the entire Danube - an enormous benefit for the passenger and even more for the cargo shipping industry which is in particular reliant on sufficient fairway depths.
Once again the availability of the waterway was a key topic for representatives of the inland navigation sector, including Wolfgang Lüftner from Lüftner Cruises. The managing director of Lüftner Reisen GmbH noted that an effective measurement and maintenance of the fairway along the entire Danube would help to increase the growth of a sector which is booming anyway. But he also stated that there is quite enough potential left regarding cross-border cooperation. Therefore the Danube countries still need to be encouraged to implement sufficiently high information and maintenance standards. In order to reduce effectively the difference existing between possible capacities and actual transport volume on the Danube, primarily innovations like a consequent move to LNG-fuels, standardised information services and training need to be realised, Otto Schwetz from Pro Danube Austria stated.
There is still potential left for goods that are particularly suitable for waterway transport. In order to create specific incentives for the transport industry, viadonau has started several priority initiatives concerning high and heavy cargo, renewable raw materials, recycling products and building materials in corporation with ports and shipping companies in recent years. The EU funded project ENERGY BARGE is based on the findings from these initiatives and aims at an increased use of bio mass for a sustainable energy production in the Danube region and further at shifting the biomass transport to the Danube waterway. At the Danube Business Talks event the Austrian Danube ports presented a positive development for this sector. Thus, Gerhard Gussmagg from Rhenus Donauhafen Krems reported about 30,000 cubic meters of biomass and cellulose loaded annually and highlighted the continually expanded port infrastructure. The project ENERGY BARGE started in the beginning of 2017 and will run until the middle of 2019 in cooperation with 15 partners from the Danube logistics sector and the bio energy industry. It is co-financed at 85% by the European Regional Development Fund. "Projects like FAIRway Danube, Danube Stream and ENERGY BARGE show that especially in terms of international cooperation a lot has happened. That offers us the opportunity to transfer our high standards across the borders and to develop the Danube River in a common and targeted way", Hans-Peter Hasenbichler, managing director of viadonau, summed up.
Mission for the future
The improvement of cooperation among Danube countries and the willingness of private enterprises to invest in the development of the waterway in recent years increased the importance of the Danube across borders. For a secure future of the river as a sustainably developed and prosperous living and economic space, further impulses at both national and international level are required. Thus Manfred Seitz (Pro Danube International) and Theresia Hacksteiner (European Barge Union) presented a "Draft Findings Paper" to Norbert Hofer and Désirée Oen containing requests of the economic stakeholders along the Danube and declarations of the umbrella organisations European Barge Union, European Skippers' Organisation, Pro Danube International and Pro Danube Austria. The mission is clearly defined: To build the tomorrow of the Danube upon the successes of today.