Officials at the Panama Canal Authority (PCA) have warned that they will continue to impose water-restricting measures for at least 10 months due to the onset of the El Niño weather phenomenon this year.
According to several news sources, global shipping bodies have been urged to join forces and come up with transit plans in light of the duration of the restrictions.
Draught restrictions for ships transiting its larger neopanamax locks have been cut by two metres while the volume of daily transits has been cut by 20% to just 32 vessels a day. Hong Kong-based news portal Splash247 points out that these measures have seen ships backing up in significant numbers at either end of the canal. Last week’s official total count was 129 ships, down from the peak of 165 earlier this month, but still 43% higher than the average, the news portal added.
A PCA spokesman said earlier this month that since the previous drought in 2019-2020, the canal had been implementing procedures to improve water efficiency in its operations while conducting studies to identify long-term solutions for climate variability. “Yet, current severity and its recurrence have no historical precedence,” the spokesman said.
One cruise ship is already reported to have cancelled its winter Panama season.
Chief analyst at freight rate platform Xeneta, Peter Sand, warned that space was at a premium and the canal was fully utilised right now, with more volumes on the way in Q3 and into Q4.
The SCA has committed to maintaining an open line of communication to keep customers informed about booking slot availability.