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Panama Canal’s Current Challenges

News, Sea Freight
Panama Canal, Panama – A cargo ship entering the Miraflores Locks in the Panama Canal, in Panama

The Panama Canal is currently grappling with mounting congestion, driven by a host of factors including reduced rainfall and shifts in the oil and gas trade. Traditionally accommodating up to 40 daily vessel transits, this number has recently been reduced to 32 due to an extended dry spell, resulting in a backlog of over 100 ships. While the Panamanian government assures the public that the canal remains “fully operational,” the average wait time for northbound vessels has tripled from June to August.

This bottleneck is exerting considerable pressure on freight costs. Canal congestion has led to the implementation of an auction-style system for securing transit slots, resulting in unpredictable cost spikes. Historically, the fee for expedited passage through the queue stood at approximately $840,000 for northbound journeys and $400,000 for southbound routes. However, these charges have recently soared, reaching highs of up to $2.4 million. When combined with standard fees, the total expense can approach a staggering $3 million, making alternative routes like the Suez Canal or the Cape of Good Hope financially attractive.

The significant rise in expenses raises significant concerns, especially as the Panama Canal’s peak season typically occurs in the fourth quarter. Although a brief increase in rainfall is expected, experts predict that low water levels will persist, suggesting that elevated shipping costs and delays may endure for the foreseeable future.

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