Drought eased! Panama Canal traffic gradually returns to normal

2024-04-23 16:44

Panama Canal traffic gradually returns to normal

Panama's dry season is coming to an end, and the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) plans to welcome more ships through the canal in the coming weeks.

Last year, the Panama Canal suffered the driest October in at least 73 years. Now more than six months have passed, and ACP finally sees signs of normalization of operations.

ACP issued the latest announcement on April 16, saying that regular maintenance work on the lock is scheduled to be carried out from May 7 to 15, and the daily traffic volume of the old ship lock will be temporarily reduced from 20 to 17 times. At the same time, based on the current and projected water levels of Gatton Lake, it is planned to significantly increase the daily traffic from 24 to 32 vessels.

Specifically, according to the plan, from May 7 to 15, the daily traffic volume of the new and old ship locks will be 24 ships. Thereafter, starting from May 16, 2024, the daily traffic volume will increase to 31 vessels. In addition, starting from June 1, 2024, the new ship lock (Neopanamax) is expected to add another traffic period, and the daily traffic volume will increase to 32 ships.

At the same time, from June 15, 2024, the maximum draft of ships passing through the Neopanamax lock will be adjusted from the current 13.41 meters (44 feet) to 13.71 meters (45 feet).


Dry season in Panama Canal has great impact on shipping

Panama is located near the equator and has a tropical maritime climate. Affected by the northeast monsoon, the eastern and central-northern regions have a hot and humid climate; the western and southwest regions face the Pacific Ocean, with heavy rainfall and high humidity. Under normal circumstances, the year can be roughly divided into two seasons: dry season and rainy season: the dry season is from January to March, with relatively little rainfall; the rainy season is from April to December, with frequent heavy downpours.

Due to the El Niño phenomenon, Panama now experiences droughts one year every three years. 2023 is Panama’s driest year since 1950. Rainfall last October was 40% below the historical average.

The Panama Canal's lock system needs to be able to lift large ships to a height of 26 meters above sea level, and it requires rainfall to do this.

Drought is seriously bad news when the backbone of the entire country's economy is the waterway that connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. The Panama Canal Authority had no choice but to restrict daily traffic and drafts, and the pain was immediately felt by the shipping industry.

Nearly half of the containers exported from China and East Asia travel through the Panama Canal to the U.S. East Coast. Restricted access to the Panama Canal caused average delays at the Port of Savannah to increase from three days in May 2023 to nearly nine days in late March.


Future rainfall trends hold key to easing restrictions

The canal is fed by Lake Gatun, whose water levels have risen following a recent downpour. According to Clarkson's data, the current traffic volume is 60% of 2022, and the traffic volume of product tankers and container ships has recovered significantly, close to 90% of normal levels.

According to statistics from Lloyd's List, 747 ships transited the border in March, an increase of 12.8% from February. Among them, 218 ships passed through the new ship lock, an increase of 8.5% compared with February; 529 ships passed through the old ship lock, an increase of 14.8%.

The traditional rainy season starts in late April and lasts until January, and ACP is still praying for normal traffic to resume in the coming months.

Fortunately, as the rainy season approaches, the Panama Canal Authority has announced increases in daily transit times. On March 25, ACP announced that the daily traffic volume reached 27 ships. According to the latest plan, starting from May 16, 2024, the daily traffic volume will increase to 31 ships. Starting from June 1, 2024, the daily traffic volume will increase by one period to 32 vessels.

In fact, the market also expected this. On April 5, Maersk announced that starting from May 10, the OC1 route will resume navigation through the Panama Canal.

In short, future rainfall trends will be the key to easing restrictions.

Previously, ACP Deputy Director Ilya Espino de Marotta expressed confidence in the prospect of gradually returning to normal traffic. "We may not get back to 36 or 38 ships, but we certainly hope to get to at least 34 ships by the end of May."

Judging from the current situation, ACP expects to reach at least 32 ships per day before July 15 this year, which is slightly lower than previous expectations. Furthermore, he said, “With luck, the Panama Canal may even be back in full operation by the end of September.”

The gradual restoration of traffic through the Panama Canal is good news for the entire shipping industry. cargo owners who have shipping plans in the near future can call 18933920302 to check prices and book space with one click!

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