The history of navigation and shipping service is very long. It practically started with cribbing but the bigger development was made after the so called “free navigation” (“volná plavba”). It means navigation on a river without the need to pay customs duties to governors of towns and territories situated on rivers. The idea of the “free navigation” originated in 1648 but it was not respected and remained not understood by many people. An agreement was made not earlier than in 1821 when all customs duties were cancelled and an integrated freightage (lodní dávka) was established. It was also stated that the respective state was responsible for waterways and the maintenance of banks.
Also a waterway that enabled a safety navigation of ships was very important for the water transport. Big stone blocks were removed from rivers also in the past and bigger adjustments of the Vltava River had already started during the reign of Charles IV who let to built in sluices to solid weirs as gates. The draught was very low at that time but, already around the year 1900, it was requested to be 140 cm for the Vltava River and 150 cm for the Elbe River. Since 1875, large regulation works had been made to increase the navigability and, in 1884, the idea to connect the Vltava River with the Dunabe came into existence. In 1899, the construction of the first dam with a sluice on the Vltava River was started and then it was followed by the dams on the Elbe between Mělník and Střekov during the years of 1903 – 1936. The dams built up the river, near Mělník, were made not gradually but according to needs. In 1975 - 1977, these dams and locks between Mělník and Chvaletice were innovated and the waterway was deepened and widened so that it was ready for the planned transport of energetic coal from Lovosice to the thermal power plant in Chvaletice. The Elbe was also regulated beneath Střekov by digging and construction of longitudinal and transversal dikes that, however, showed to be insufficient due to low discharge during some years and that did not allow the usage of full capacity of ships for most of the year. Of course, it was also worked on the increasing of the draught on the German part of Elbe where regulations by longitudinal and transversal dikes, digging and adjustment of some river curves were made. Then, there were channels (Mittellandkanal and Elbeseitenkanal) developed from Magdeburg where the navigation was possible further to Hamburg with a full draught. And the same was to all “Western Europe”.
ČSPL, with its registered office at Děčín, was established on 13 June 1922 as the Československá plavební akciová společnost Labská, Praha (Czechoslovak Elbe Navigation Joint Stock Company, Prague). It was established by the former state and banks. The Company could have run all activities that related not only to the transport of goods and people but also to constructions and repairs of ships.
The state invested ships that it had acquired from war reparation and bank invested the necessary capital. It concerned 18 steamers, 11 steam express liners, 189 boats, 7 chain liners (řetězový parník), 12 harbour liners, 7 folding boats (skládací člun), 49 passage boats (pramice), and 21 other auxiliary vessels (pomocné plavidlo). Totally, it was 314 units with the tonnage of 142,392 tons and the capacity of 18,310 KS. Ships’ crews were formed by Germans from 90 % in the start of the twenties. It resulted from the movement of ships on rivers in Germany and the knowledge of the river by these local people. However, with the start of training of shipping skills, this ratio decreased very soon to 54 % and this trend further continued. Also ships were old and had to be renewed. It happened in 1936 by the construction of a series of boats of “Amanda” type that continued to be built during the following 20 years. 20 boats were built for the war and others after it. At that time, the construction of the first two motor cargo ships (MNL – motorová nákladní loď) and two motor battle ships was started.
Big changes were brought with the following Second World War. The navigation during the War was not interrupted, only the Company was Germanized using the force and, in the end of the War by the crossing of a front line, most of bridges on the German part of Elbe were damaged or destroyed and many ships sunk, by which the waterway was blocked. Totally 267 units of ships with the tonnage of 137,283 tons left to the Company after the occupation. The construction of new ships continued before the year 1947, yet.
It was followed by the nationalization, and on 1 January 1949, the navigation company continued in its business under the name of national company Československá plavba labská (the Czechoslovak Elbe Navigation). As of 1 July 1952, the companies merged and so a new national company named Československá plavba labsko-oderská (the Czechoslovak Elbe-Oder Navigation) was established. In 1957, forwarding activities were revoked to ČSPL and transferred to Čechofracht.
Of course, the increasing size of the whole Company was followed by changes in the structure and organization. Other new and modern motor cargo ships were developed and a new “push technology” (“tlačná technologie”) was established. ČSPLO owned the Křešice dockyard as a repair background, ports in Loubí, Ústí nad Labem, Lovosice, Mělník, Kolín and Prague. It run home and international navigation and the transport of energetic coal. All these activities came under the charge of individual independent so called "branches" with their own headquarters that reported to the General Directorate. Abroad, there were agencies in Magdeburg, Hamburg, Braunschweig, Duisburg, Rotterdam, and Štětín. In 1989, the number of ships reached 700 units. In 1990, it was decided that, due to the overbalance of capacity of ships, no new ships would be purchased and the development of the motor cargo ships of the MNL 11631 and TR 610 types was stopped hereby. Since then no new ship has been built or bought. Old, mainly engineless, ships were crushed and also the oldest motor cargo ships were put off.
After the year 1989, it was followed by the period of privatization which culminated at ČSPL on 5 May 1992 when a new company Československá plavba labská (ČSPL – Czechoslovak Elbe Navigation) was established. This Company did not own the ports in Ústí nad Labem, Mělník, Prague, and Kolín any more.
This Company, next to the transhipment, storage and transport, also offered ship repair works and the construction of river-sea ships. Within the ten following years, several events happened which resulted in the Company decline and the Company became bankrupt. It was mainly due to the loss of the transport of energetic coal where, nearly from day to day, tens of pushed floating ships lost their work and due to several “dry” years that only allowed using the tonnage of ships from several percentages.
The old Československá plavba labská was sold out within the bankruptcy by individual function parts of the Company. The main activity, i.e. the operation of the river freight transport especially abroad, was bought by ARGO Internationale Spedition belonging to the AFG Holding Group on 21 October 2002 and registered under the name ČSPL.
Currently, after the reconstruction of the inland fleet and the whole organization of management, the Company has 293 employees and 102 units of ships with the tonnage of 66,812 tons and 13,674 kW. It is, for the sake of interest, only by 20 kW more than on the establishment of the Company in 1922 but with less than half tonnage. However, with such an inland fleet and thanks to more superior ships and their better usage, it is able to transport more than twice the number of load and to much longer distances as the navigation before was mainly performed on the route from the Czech Republic – Hamburg (630 – 700 km) and now, it is used within the river and river-sea ports all over Europe with the distance of more than thousand km.
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