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Danube Declared Navigable

04 December, 00:00

The river, sustaining serious damage from NATO air raids in 1999, has now been officially declared safe for navigation. The Danube Commission announced that the river had been cleared of debris from the bombed bridges and other NATO targets. The cleanup work, costing $25 million, was financed mainly by the European Union. Unexploded shells remaining at the bottom will be retrieved only by the next fall, experts say. The BBC expects a considerable increase in navigation soon.

The Danube Commission also reached an agreement with Yugoslavia to gradually lower passage fees and improve the pontoon bridges schedule in the Yugoslav sector. Steamship companies complained that the Novi Sad pontoon bridge tolls were too high. It was agreed recently that the bridge would be drawn twice a week starting January 1, 2002, and three times a week beginning in March. The shipmasters will have to pay less, one deutschmark per ton instead of the current three. In two years, after the stationary bridge bombed by NATO becomes operational at Novi Sad, the pontoon crossing will be dismantled.

Ukraine is very interested in the restoration of the Danube waterway. Its Danube Steamship Company lost over $600 million during the Yugoslav conflict, and Ukrrichflot [Ukrainian River Fleet] lost $19 million after NATO air raids on Yugoslavia began. Kyiv is also looking into the possibility of building a deep navigable canal linking the Danube to the Black Sea in the Ukrainian sector of the river. Ecologists object, since the canal would be dug through the Danube Biosphere Reserve. Not long ago, Russia proposed the EU countries to establish a Volga-Don-Danube international water transport corridor, open to Caspian shipping lines. Interfax quoted Rosrechflot [Russian counterpart to Ukrrichflot] as saying that the opening of this route will make it possible to annually deliver up to 15 million tons of cargo. Subsequently, a large water transportation belt will be made available, using the Neva, Volga, Don, Main, Rhine, Azov, Black, and Baltic Sea routes with an annual cargo turnover of 90-100 million tons. Moscow believes Russian steamship companies could actually take the lead there.

In Ukraine, Premier Anatoly Kinakh spoke at a meeting of heads of governments of the Central European Initiative member states recently and put forth a number of proposals concerning the formation of the Seventh Pan-European Transport Corridor, uniting the Danube internal water route, Black Sea-Danube canal, the Danube branches of Kiliya and Sulina, inland water routes between the Black Sea and Danube, Danube-Sava and Danube-Tisza canals, and a corresponding port infrastructure on all these commercial routes.

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