Panama Canal: ships experienced a slight reduction in waiting time

Isbel Lázaro.

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Canal de Panamá

Inspenet, September 27, 2023.

Due to the notable drought that the Panama Canal, restrictions were imposed on the maximum draft of ships transiting the waterway, limiting them to no more than 44 feet (13.4 meters), compared to the average depth of 15.2 meters the previous year. This has led to a reduction in the number of vessels that pass through it daily, going from 36 to 32 vessels , which generated queues of more than 200 vessels during the month of August.

However, as the most critical stage of the drought has passed, congestion in the Canal has begun to ease. According to data from MarineTraffic , a web platform that provides real-time information on the location and movements of vessels, on September 21, 104 vessels were registered waiting.

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In addition, a notable improvement has been observed with regard to waiting times.

Other alternative routes to the Panama Canal

ComexPerú highlighted that, given that waiting times continue to be considerably high, consulting firms specialized in the maritime industry, such as the British Drewry, have suggested transportation alternatives.

Drewry has identified two viable routes: the US East Coast to China (USEC) route and the Colombia to Chile route. In the case of the first, the consultancy maintains that choosing to go around the Cape of Good Hope at the southern tip of Africa would result in a cost increase of 28%, so it would only be economically attractive if waiting times in the Canal from Panama exceed 22 days.

On the other hand, on the route from Colombia to Chile, which departs from Colombian ports with access to the Caribbean Sea, the option of going around the Strait of Magellan at the southern tip of South America would imply a cost increase of 34%, equivalent to a wait 12 days to cross the Channel.

For this reason, ComexPerú argues that opting for these alternative routes does not represent an advantageous option. However, the union recognizes that the limitations on the allowed draft will not be lifted in the short term.

“They will remain for at least a year. Likewise, it is necessary to recognize that the main cause of this drought is related to natural phenomena, which would represent a persistent problem in the following years,” they warn in a statement.


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