Ships must wait in line to reach the waterway connecting two seas as a result of the drought-affected Panama Canal’s continued limitations on ship transit for a full year. The canal, an engineering marvel that transports 6% of the world’s maritime trade up and over the isthmus between the Atlantic and Pacific seas, is experiencing a scarcity of rainfall needed to shift ships through locks that act as water elevators. According to the sub-administrator of the canal, Ilya Espino, “we are looking at a period of one year” of restricted access unless there are significant rains in the next three months.
Clients will have “a year to plan” during that time.
Two man-made lakes refilled by nearby rainfall provide the 200 million liters of freshwater needed by each ship transiting the canal to pass through the locks. A total of 4.2 million people, or approximately half of the country, receive their drinking water from the lakes. However, the El Nino warming phenomenon and the severe dryness that has gripped Panama have led canal authorities to limit access to ships with a maximum draft (depth in the water) of 13.11 meters (43 feet).To conserve water, the number of ships passing through the canal each day has decreased from 40 on average in 2022 to 32 now.
Ships waiting to access the 50-mile (80-kilometer) channel, which is mostly used by customers from the United States, China, and Japan, are backed up as a result of the efforts.On Thursday, there were about 130 boats in line, as opposed to about 90 typically. Although they presently stand at about 11 days, waiting times, which are typically between three and five days, have occasionally reached 19 days. The restrictions, according to canal operators, are projected to cause a $200 million decline in earnings in 2024 compared to this year. Vessels can try to purchase a slot through an auction process or reserve a slot in advance to travel through the canal. There is a lengthy wait for individuals who are unable to get a slot.
Espino claimed that although “130 or 140 ships cause us problems and delays,” “we easily handle a queue of 90 ships” waiting. This week, President Laurentino Cortizo of Panama was compelled to refute a claim made by Gustavo Petro of Colombia that the canal was shut. The “special” predicament the waterway is experiencing was also mentioned this week by the president of Mexico, Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador. Although there is a restriction in place in Panama, as there has been in the past, Cortizo insisted that the Panama Canal was not actually shut down.