MORE than 200 ships have been stranded by low water levels in part of the Three Gorges Dam stretch of the Yangtze River. The Yangtze in central Hubei province has experienced its lowest water level for more than 100 years with an average depth of only 2.6 metres. The provincial Government has sent nine dredgers to scoop the riverbed of the 20-kilometre Jingjiang section that runs from Shishou to Jianli. Operations to protect the river banks also have been organised. Three Gorges boat excursions from Sichuan's Chongqing to Hubei's Wuhan, particularly those during the Lunar New Year period, were either cancelled or re-scheduled. Large cargo ships were also stranded by the low water levels. Some of the ships - of a total of more than 200 affected - had been stranded for two weeks, the People's Daily reported yesterday. The newspaper said some manufacturing companies along the Yangtze suffered losses due to the delay of cargo transport. Liu Yongchen, deputy director of the Yangtze River Navigation Bureau under the Ministry of Communications, explained that millions of cubic metres of silt had washed down from Shishou where the river bank at Xiangjiazhou was breached last June. The authorities are only allowing passenger vessels and small freight ships through the bottleneck.