Shippers Spend $235 Million to Bypass Panama Canal Delays Amid Drought

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By LatAm Reports Editor

In a strategic response to severe congestion at the Panama Canal, shipping companies have collectively spent $235 million this year to secure expedited passage through the vital waterway. This expenditure, as reported by Waypoint Port Services Ltd., represents a 20% increase compared to the total paid in 2022 and is primarily attributed to a significant drought that has restricted the canal’s capacity.

The Panama Canal Authority, managing this crucial maritime route, has been auctioning priority slots to shippers, with bids reaching unprecedented heights this year. This surge in auction prices is a direct result of the El Niño-induced drought, which has led to notably lower water levels and a consequent sharp reduction in traffic. These auction fees are in addition to the regular tolls charged for crossing the canal.

In light of the ongoing water scarcity, the canal authority intends to maintain access restrictions until February 2024, a move that is likely to intensify the competition among shippers seeking quicker transit times. This competitive bidding process offers a solution for customers lacking reservations, with prices driven by market dynamics.

A spokesperson for the Panama Canal highlighted the auction system’s role in adapting to current challenges, noting that it’s premature to forecast the full impact of these auctions on the canal’s revenue. However, the current earnings from the auctions are substantial enough to offset a projected $200 million revenue shortfall, as estimated by financial services firm ING Groep NV.

Francisco Torné, the Panama country manager for Waypoint, expressed uncertainty regarding the future implications of these high auction expenditures, acknowledging the unpredictability of the situation. This development underscores the significant economic and operational impacts of environmental factors on global shipping routes.