Perspective on Panama Canal Congestion

The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) continues to face what it describes as an “unprecedented challenge” this year due to drought conditions limiting water supply needed for canal operations. Aiming to optimize water use and to mitigate impacts on cargo volume, the ACP has implemented several measures including reducing maximum ship draft to 44 feet, reducing the number of daily transits for panamax vessels (while maintaining neopanamax passages), and modifying reservation protocols. Overall vessel queues and wait times remain elevated. As of August 29, 135 vessels were distributed across canal entrances. However, it is normal to have up to 90 vessels waiting. It is important to note that the extended waiting times are almost exclusively concentrated among non-containerized general cargo, dry bulk, tankers, and LPG/LNG carriers. Increased wait times for container ships have been relatively minimal at less than a day. Still, Panama Canal congestion remains an important issue to monitor and scenario plan for. The Panama Canal is the primary gateway for container flows from Asia to the US East Coast.