Panama Canal launches special auctions for bottlenecked ships

The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) has begun offering extra transit slot auctions for vessels that have become trapped in queues to get through the canal’s locks. The “special” auctions began on Saturday November 25th, for a crossing on Monday.

Regular auctions of slots in recent weeks have gone for approaching $4m – meaning that it is only for container ships that the transit makes much economic sense. For crude oil tankers one of the “long ways round” has been deemed financially more sensible.

The ACP said that it would add extra slots allowing ships to pay big premiums to transit the canal. Vessels that have been waiting for 10 days or more will be able to pay a (large) one-off fee in order to transit the canal.

Extremely low levels of rainfall have left the lake that feeds the canal (and also the water supplies of about half of Panama) with limited water. That has forced the ACP to cut the number of daily transits, because every use of the locks loses about 50m gallons of fresh water to the sea.

Vessels can therefore choose either to wait, to stump up extra cash, or to divert

The ACP advisory said that “vessels without reservation may experience indefinite delays”.