The snake is shorter: Traffic jam at the Panama Canal is easing.

DThe line of ships waiting to pass through the Panama Canal has become shorter. According to the Canal Authority, the number has decreased by 20 percent to 108 ships, which is normal for this time of year. Last week, there were still 135 tankers and freighters stuck in traffic.

Mark Fehr

Redakteur in der Wirtschaft.

Due to a drought in Central America, there is a lack of water for the locks of the artificial waterway, resulting in fewer ships being able to pass through the bottleneck between the Atlantic and the Pacific. Additionally, they have to reduce their draft for passage, which means they can transport significantly less cargo. Ships without long-term reservations must therefore anchor for a longer period before they can navigate the canal. According to a table from the canal authority, there were 61 ships without reservations waiting on Wednesday. The previous waiting times for these ships ranged from one to eleven days.

If you do not make a reservation, you will have to wait.

According to experts, container ships usually reserve their canal passages in advance to ensure quick passage through the canal. On the other hand, bulk carriers and tankers usually do not have reservations and therefore have to wait longer more frequently. As the Panama Canal is heading towards peak season and there is still little rain expected, the canal authority anticipates longer queues.

As a countermeasure, ships of the Neopanamax class are now only allowed to navigate through the canal with a draft of 13.4 meters instead of 15.2 meters in the previous year. Additionally, the number of transits for ships of the Panamax class has been reduced from 36 to 32 per day. The canal authority also strongly advises shipping companies to make reservations in advance for transits. Approximately half of the ships arriving at the canal do not have a reservation and therefore have to wait in line.

The canal authority intends to maintain the emergency measures for the remainder of this year and the upcoming year, unless there is a significant improvement in the rain forecasts. Due to the lack of rain, the Gatun Lake, which is crucial for the irrigation of the Panama Canal, is currently only about 24 meters deep. In September of the previous year, however, the water level was 26 meters. According to data from the canal authority, the lake typically rises to approximately 27 meters during the rainy season from autumn to November and then decreases to just under 26 meters during the dry period until the end of April.

Despite the drought and water shortage, the canal business is running according to the budget plan for the fiscal year ending on September 30th. The canal authority has recorded 13,038 transits until August, which is 799 more than planned. The total cargo transported through the canal during this period amounts to 470 million tons, aligning perfectly with the plan.

The Panama Canal is primarily important for maritime trade between North America, South America, and East Asia. 6 percent of global maritime trade passes through the waterway, which was opened in 1914. According to the Kiel Institute for the World Economy (IfW), the Panama Canal has less significance for Germany and Europe compared to the Suez Canal between the Mediterranean and Red Sea. The shipping company Hapag-Lloyd also does not consider it a major issue.