Panama Canal Slashes Daily Transits Due To El Nino


  • El Niño phenomenon forces Panama Canal Authority to cut draught, impacting operations.
  • ACP reduces daily transits to 32, planning further cuts to 18 by February 2024.
  • FY2023 sees slowdown with 14,080 vessels, down from previous year, tonnage drops to 511,136,710 PC/UMS.

In response to the relentless El Niño phenomenon and a severe drought, the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) took significant measures, reducing the draught to 13.41mtr on May 30, 2023. The decision aimed to alleviate the impact on canal operations and navigate the challenges posed by adverse weather conditions.

Administrator on Draught Reductions

ACP Administrator Ricaurte Vasquez emphasized that no additional draught reductions would be implemented. This decision, he stated, was crucial to prevent disruptions for approximately 70% of shippers reliant on the Panama Canal for their maritime activities.

Reduced Daily Transits

Since July 30, 2023, the ACP has been managing reduced daily transits, currently operating at 32 daily transits between the Neopanamax and Panamax locks. Anticipating prolonged challenges, canal authorities have outlined a plan for more severe cuts, progressively decreasing the number of daily transits to just 18 by February 2024.

FY2023 Canal Statistics Reflect Slowdown in Operations

Fiscal Year 2023 canal statistics, ending in September, indicate a noticeable slowdown in operations comped to the previous fiscal year. The total number of transits declined from 14,239 in FY2022 to 14,080 in FY2023, with tonnage also experiencing a decrease from 518,833,663 PC/UMS to 511,136,710 PC/UMS.

Growing Interest in Larger Container Ships

The statistics reveal a notable shift in vessel types, with Neopanamax transits increasing to 3,623 (28.67% of total transits), while Panamax vessels decreased to 9,015 (71.33%) in FY2023. This data suggests a growing interest among shipowners in commissioning larger container ships, evident in the increased number of Neopanamax box ships, representing 48.3% of total container ships.

Container Ship Transits Showcase Changing Trends

The fiscal year data highlights a change in container ship transits, with Neopanamax box ships increasing to 1,751 (48.3%) and Panamax container vessels decreasing to 1,036 (11.5%) in FY2023. This marks a notable shift from FY2022 when Neopanamax box ships accounted for 45.5% of total box ships, and Panamax vessels made up 12.5% of the total.

As the Panama Canal grapples with the impacts of El Niño and the associated drought, stakeholders remain vigilant, closely monitoring the evolving situation and its effects on global shipping.

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Source: Seatrade Maritime