Ice freezes Danube, boats stop
Belgrade - Thick ice has closed hundreds of kilometres of the Danube river in half-a-dozen countries and confined scores of ships to port on the busiest European waterway, officials said on Thursday.
The 2 860km river, which flows through nine countries and is vital for transport, power, irrigation, industry and fishing, was wholly or partially blocked from Austria to its mouth on the Black Sea.
With ice floes in the river around Belgrade up to half a metre thick, the Belgrade port authority said that all vessels on the 600km stretch through Serbia were safely in port.
A government ban on navigation on all the country's waterways was expected to remain in place for some 10 days, deputy infrastructure minister Pavle Galic told the Beta news agency.
Upstream in Croatia an operation was being mounted to rescue the three-member crew of a Croatian vessel trapped in the ice near the main Danube port of Vukovar since Friday and running out of food, port official Ivan Barovic said.
All shipping has been halted since Wednesday on the 137km of the Danube flowing through Croatia, Barovic told AFP.
Serbian railways meanwhile said on Thursday that the famed Balkan Express train that runs from Belgrade to Istanbul would only go as far as Sofia for the time being because of flooding in Bulgaria related to the cold snap.
Top Serbian water official Aleksandar Prodanovic said he hoped for a slow thaw by some 5°C daily "so the snow melts slowly and causes no bigger problems".
Ice 12cm thick
A quick rise in temperature could trigger floods because of the high levels of snow in Serbia which is up to 1.5m in some parts, he told Radio Belgrade.
Bulgarian authorities, who have also banned all navigation on the river, reported the Danube frozen between 50 and 90%, while a total of 224 vessels were stuck in six ports and a river channel in Bulgaria.
In Romania the river was completely frozen along a 120km stretch between Moldova Veche and Turnu Severin at the Serbian end, and a further 117km downstream between Calarasi and Harsova, as well as at Isakcha, in the Danube delta.
Upstream in Hungary ships were still being allowed on the Danube but "at their own risk" the authorities said, adding that ice was covering between 60 and 70% of the river
But in Austria navigation was impossible as the river had an ice layer up to 12cm thick in parts.
"For the Danube to freeze we need temperatures of under minus 10°C for at least a week. That is currently the case," the river traffic body Via Donau said.