Freight Forwarding, Shipping Logistics, Supply Chain

Congestion in the Panama Canal

Containership transporting cargo through the Panama Canal during congestion.

Weeks of drought have resulted in congestion in the Panama Canal for carriers passing through. Many consider this backlog the “world’s worst traffic jam,” with over 125 ships currently waiting outside. The numbers reportedly reached a height of 200+ in the last few days. The Panama Canal is a significant shortcut in international trade for the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Yearly, the Panama Canal generates nearly $2 billion in revenue and close to $800 million for Panama’s economy. Certain shippers save billions a year using the canal instead of taking a longer route. With the amount of importers and exporters that rely on the passageway, a drought significantly impacts cargo movement.

Canal Authority Responds to Drought by Placing Restrictions

Although different factors led to a traffic jam in the Panama Canal, the leading cause is a recent drought. The drought is due to a weather phenomenon called El Niño, which lower the rainfall for various locations. This year, in particular, Panama has seen a more substantial decrease in rain than usual. Along with El Niño, the rainy season in Panama has been less than average in the last few years. The issue is that the canal relies on rainwater to transport containerships between the two oceans. To combat the problem, canal authorities have recently placed restrictions on the number of ships that go through at a time.

Last week, the authorities lowered the range of daily containerships passing through to 32 from an average of 36 ships. Other restrictions include a reduction of the draft limit of the canal from 50ft to 44ft. The draft is the distance between a boat’s waterline and the deepest point of the ship. A vessel must reduce the number of containers on board to meet the limit. As a result, larger containerships and dry bulk carriers experience longer wait times. The factors mentioned combine to create a significant traffic jam in the canal. Along with affecting Panama’s economy, it substantially affects the global economy.

How Are Shippers Affected by the Congestion in the Panama Canal?

The importance of the Panama Canal is shown by the extensive number of supply chains that rely on it. With the number of ships stuck in the traffic jam, the main impact is shipping delays. This is especially true with the number of containerships still sailing to the canal. With the holiday season quickly approaching, this amount may soon grow. A consequence of the wait times is that the costs incurred are also rising for the shipper. Supply chain disruptions may reportedly increase prices for goods like imported groceries in the near future. Panama Canal authorities have already placed higher premiums for larger vessels that must pass through.

When disruptions like a canal backlog typically occur, shippers tend to look for alternative routes to move their cargo. This may lead to an increase in transport times and costs. Talking to a freight forwarder is an ideal way to protect your supply chain. They help by finding the best solutions for transporting your goods. Contact A1 Worldwide Logistics at 305-425-9752 to speak to a forwarder regarding the movement of your shipment internationally. Whether there is a backlog or other issues that may arise, we help you navigate the world of shipping.

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