Panama Canal traffic to increase as drought conditions ease

The Panama Canal reduced traffic due to a historic drought at Gatún Lake last year.

Some ships had to take longer routes east through the Suez Canal or around the Cape of Good Hope because of record delays at the Panama Canal. Stone RF/Getty Images photo by Gonzalo Azumendi.

This article was published by the US Energy Information Administration on June 27, 2024.

By Josh Eiermann

The Panama Canal Authority (APC) announced this month that it will increase the number of daily booking slots for vessels transiting the Panama Canal to 35 in August, easing rules that restricted shipping traffic through the narrow waterway since last year. The APC increased booking slots following higher rainfall at Gatún Lake, increasing Neopanamax crossings of the canal’s larger locks to 10 vessels and Panamax crossings of the smaller locks to 25 vessels.

water level at Gatun Lake

Data source: Panama Canal Authority
Note: June 2024 data is through June 25. No data for 2002

The Panama Canal reduced traffic due to a historic drought at Gatún Lake last year. Water levels at Gatún Lake, which supplies the water used to operate the canal’s locks, were the lowest since at least 1965.

shipping routes through the Panama canal

Data source: U.S. Energy Information Administration

The APC limited vessel traffic to 24 crossings per day on November 7, 2023, down from the typical 34 to 36 per day. Fewer booking slots last year affected global trade routes. Some ships had to take longer routes east through the Suez Canal or around the Cape of Good Hope because of record delays at the Panama Canal. Delays at the canal coupled with disruptions to Red Sea shipping routes led to higher global shipping rates as fewer vessels were available to carry products.

The APC expects more rainfall during the rainy season that lasts from May to December because of an expected La Niña this summer, which could result in normal operations this summer or fall.

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