Panama Canal increases daily transits to 27 

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By LatAm Reports Editor

Under optimal conditions, about 36 ships cross the Channel, which has been applying since July 2023 a reduction in transits that left the figure at 22 ships in November.

Starting on Monday, 27 daily ship transits through the Panama Canal are increased to 27 after a slight improvement in the levels of the main lake serving the interoceanic route.

The area is in the midst of a water crisis due to the severe drought resulting from climate change and aggravated by the El Niño phenomenon.

In optimal conditions, some 36 ships cross the Panama Canal, which has been applying since July 2023 a reduction in transits that left the figure on 22 ships last November and with plans to take it even to 18 in February of this year, forecasts that finally did not materialize in the face of the improvement in water availability.

Thus, the channel announced this month that it was raising the daily passage of the ships through the panamax locks (the centenaries and smallest) gradually: of the 24 transits established in January were added “two additional quotas (26) since 18 March” and another (27) is available for the transits scheduled from this Monday.

The administration of the road then reported that this “new adjustment” was given in “answer to the current and projected level of Lake Gatún,” one of the two that supplies the Canal, with the aim of “accommodating the growing demand for transits.”

“There are already indications that there is some rain. (That’s why we) have increased the number of transits per day,” Panama Canal administrator Ricaurte Vásquez said last week.

Vásquez explained to the media at the time that “all the indications” received and the reports “from all international weather services indicate that the soft phenomenon of La Niña (would be) beginning possibly in the month of March (or) April.”

“There is a greater probability that the intensity of La Niña will increase for the months of July and August,” Vásquez added.

“We are calibrating these models of forecasts, which we are seeing with a 30-day horizon. That’s why now, seeing the horizon of 30 days next, we announce to the industry that there is more space to be able to travel through the Panama Canal,” said the administrator.

The La Niña phenomenon is a low temperature event and causes severe droughts in the Pacific coastal areas, and is the opposite of El Niño (high temperatures).

These estimates would give a possible premature start to the rains in Panama, a country with only two seasons: dry (between December and April, but increasingly prolonged by climate change) and rain (between May and November).

The Panama Canal, through which about 3 % of world trade passes and inaugurated in August 1914, suffers from an acute water crisis due to the prolonged drought that lowered the water levels of the main lake that serves this route.

The current crisis stems from the water deficit of the artificial lakes Gatún (1913) and Alhajuela (1935), so the administration of the road has already identified projects to guarantee the water resource, but its concreteness depends on decisions of the Panamanian Government.

As a result of this climate situation, toll revenue in this fiscal year is expected to be reduced by $800 million in this fiscal year, as the administrator told EFE last January.

This article has been translated from the original which first appeared in Panama America