Panama Canal ship transits down in May

Photo of author

By LatAm Reports Staff Writers

The Panama Canal continues to report a decrease in ship transit, as part of the drought since last year.

Until May 2024, the Panama Canal crossed 6,235 ships, of which 1,799 did so through the neopanamax locks and 4,436 for the panamax.

While in 2023 1,651 ships passed, of that total 2,409 used the neopanamax locks and 6,242 panamax.

Comparing the figures shows a significant decrease in ship transit. Specifically, 2,416 fewer ships crossed the interoceanic route, so far in fiscal year 2024, which runs from October 2022 to September 2023, according to figures from the reports of the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) on the accumulated transit of the Panama Canal by market segment and type of exclusion.

In the transit accumulated until March 2024, 1,123 container ships, 486 gas stations and 81 liquefied natural gas are crossed by the neo-panak. But they also passed passenger boats (42), tankers (30), bulk carriers (23), vehicles (8), chimiqueros (3) and others (3).

While by the panamax locks, the transit was led by the chimiqueros with 1,142 ships, followed by the container holders (660), bulk carriers (659), vehicles (481), gas (467), refrigerated (307), tankers (238), passengers (154), others (171) and general cargo (157).

The May figures repeat the same behaviour in April when they stopped passing 1,922 ships, following the transit of 4,641 ships versus 6,563 April 2023.

With the rainy season, the Panama Canal hopes to recover the movement of ship transit, gradually.

That is why he recently announced that he will increase the maximum authorized draught to 45 feet, due to the current and projected level of Lake Gatún in the face of the arrival of the rainy season over the Canal basin.

By means of a notice to the shipping companies, the maritime entity reported that it was advancing the date of application of the authorized maximum draught that was announced in April and scheduled to enter into force on June 15 of this year.

The measure will place the total number of daily ship transits at 32, as the number of daily transits increased by 16 May from 17 to 24 in panamax locks, and from 1 June the daily transits of 7 to 8 in neopanamax locks (1 additional transit to current ones) will increase daily transits (1 transit additional to the current ones).

According to the Panama Canal, since May 26, and for the first time so far in 2024, the Gatún and Alajuela reservoirs are above the level recorded for the same date in 2023, due to the arrival of the rainy season.

Ricaurte Vásquez Morales, administrator of the Panama Canal, said in a statement that the updating of the rules regarding the advancement of the transit dates of ships take place to improve operational efficiency and adapt to the dynamic needs of world maritime traffic. Under the new regulations, any ship that has made a reservation may be eligible to travel up to two days or more before the date originally booked.

Vásquez recalled that as long as we celebrate the resistance and reliability of the Canal during this last drought, some factors must be taken into account, such as recognizing the need for continuous investment and innovation to ensure its permanent viability in the face of changing threats and changes in trade flows.

He mentioned that climate variability, in particular, poses a long-term risk to Canal operations, with extreme weather events such as El Niño, which present potential challenges in the coming years. In addition, he said, as Panama’s population grows and maritime trade expands, demand for water is expected to increase.

To address these concerns, the Canal administrator argues that it will be essential to find a long-term solution that safeguards the future of the Canal and meets the changing needs of all our customers. A promising solution we are exploring is the construction of a new reservoir, which provides capacity for 11 additional transits.

This strategic investment promises long-term security for the Canal and reliability for its clients, although its construction would first require the support of the government and communities living in the Panama Canal basin area, Vásquez said.

He added that, although there is no simple answer or a single project that can immediately solve the water problem, we stand firm in our search for innovative solutions.

This article has been translated after first appearing inLa Estrella