Panama Canal Extends Restrictions Due to Drought

Authorities of the Panama Canal have announced they will extend travel restrictions for at least 10 more months, due to a prolonged drought, which has lowered the water levels of the canal. Travel restrictions have been in place since earlier this year, which has caused a number of backlogs and has forced captains to lighten their loads or find alternative routes to their destinations.

The Panama Canal is one of the world’s busiest and most important naval tradeways and accounts for 6% of the world’s maritime commerce. The canal primarily services ships bound for America, China, and Japan and plays a vital role in connecting trade between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The canal currently services an estimated 32 ships a day, which is down from 40 in 2022. Wait times have also increased from the previous 3-5 days to 11 days on average.

Authorities hope that the reduced traffic will help in efforts to retain water until the rainy seasons begin, however some worry that this will create a larger traffic buildup, which could impede operations.

“We are currently seeing an increase in arrivals. It is peak season, as December is approaching, so merchandise for Christmas is moving quickly,” the canal’s deputy administrator, Ilya Espino, said in an interview.

Authorities suggest that captains should book passage in advance to help shorten wait times for those seeking passage. Authorities additionally opened another slot for ships to make the passage, which successfully dropped the queue from 160 ships to 115 as of Thursday.

Authorities however are currently grappling with bad weather, with next year’s weather being expected to be even drier than usual.