Vessel wait times at Panama Canal up by more than 40% in August

Problems at the Panama Canal not only show no signs of going away, but also appear to be getting worse. The average wait time for non-booked vessels at the Panama Canal jumped by between 44% and 59% last month.

The prolonged drought has led to restrictions on daily transits and ship drafts for several months now, and the AMP local canal authority has warned that things might not get to normal for approaching a year.

Currently only 32 vessels with a draught of up to 44ft are allowed to pass each day. The compares with 36 vessels and a maximum draft of 50ft in normal conditions.

That has caused queues at both ends of the canal, even though some shippers have decided on alternative routes (for example, choosing either a US west coast port or a Gulf of Mexico port, and then using trucks to carry the containers a longer distance overland within the US).

Waiting time averaged 8.85 days for southbound transit and 9.44 days for northbound passage in August, up from 5.56 days and 6.55 days respectively in July, according to data from the Panama Canal Authority (AMP).

The waiting time was longer for general cargo vessels, dry bulk carriers and LPG tankers. Container ships, passenger vessels, refrigerated cargo vessels and vehicle carriers were less affected.

By last Friday September 1st the backlog of ships had eased to 117 on Friday, from a peak of more than 160 vessels in early August.

“To ensure the canal remains open to the world of commerce, the Panama Canal Authority has implemented strategic measures over the past several months … to mitigate the impacts from climate change and a subsequent dry season,” the canal said last week.

Panama has seen a slight increase in rainfall in the past two months, resulting in a stabilization of the canal’s water levels – after months of sharp declines. However, rain has not increased enough to raise levels in the waterway. Isaac Hankes, senior weather analyst at London Stock Exchange Group, said that “Panama Canal water levels are likely to remain exceptionally low for months ahead yet, despite short-term improvements in the forecast”.