Navigating the Panama Canal Drought: Tips to Get Your Shipments Moving

While the backlog of ships waiting to travel through the Panama Canal has eased slightly, continued drought conditions in the region have resulted in the Panama Canal Authority extending daily transit and vessel restrictions through the end of this year and into 2024, Reuters reported.

Overall, vessel wait times are at 164.5 hours in September, down from 228 minutes in August. But with the end of rainy season in Panama this month, the prospect of enough rain falling to restore water levels to pre-drought conditions is slim. Water levels in Gatun Lake, which the Canal draws its water from, are at 79.7 feet, off from 87.41 feet a year ago. Typically, water levels are 89 feet at the end of rainy season.

The Canal Authority emphasized this week that total vessel crossings are more than 800 ahead of year-to-date projections, and vessel traffic in September has represented a normal level for the time of year.

However, some shippers are concerned, and that has them looking for alternatives to avoid material or product delays. AlixPartners, citing data from CNBC, noted that 40% of U.S. container traffic comes through the Panama Canal.

To deal with the lower water levels, the Panama Canal Authority has restricted ships to a water draft depth of 44 feet, compared to 50 feet under normal conditions. That has led some ships to carry less cargo.


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