Maersk outlines measures to deal with new Panama restrictions

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by Emily Atkins

Maersk has issued a customer bulletin outlining its responses to new measures announced by the Panama Canal Authority (PCA) due to the prolonged dry season and insufficient precipitation in the Canal watershed.

The PCA has reduced the daily transit capacity to about 32 vessels per day since July 30, 2023. Most recently, the PCA announced new limits that are likely to lead to fewer than 24 passages a day in November, and as of February 1, 2024, until further notice, the number of booking slots will be reduced to 18 per day.

Since the beginning of the 2023 dry season, the Panama Canal adopted several water saving and conservation measures in the transit operation, including the use of water saving basins in the Neopanamax Locks and cross-filling in the Panamax Locks. In addition, the late arrival of this year’s rainy season, and lack of precipitation in the Canal watershed has obliged the Canal to reduce the transit capacity to approximately 32 vessels per day since July 30, 2023, while managing the available rainfall over the watershed to maintain Gatun Lake at a level that would offer a competitive draft.

On September 29, 2023, the Canal announced an additional reduction in capacity, effective November 1, 2023. Despite all measures taken, the level of Gatun Lake has continued to decline to unprecedented levels for this time of year. The recorded precipitation for October has been the lowest on record since 1950 (41% below), and so far, 2023 ranks as the second driest year for the same period. Based on the rainfall projections for the following weeks, which as of today is expected to be 38% less for the rest of the year, the ACP is further reducing the daily transit capacity to postpone the need for additional draft reductions below the current 13.41m (44 feet) TFW.

“We understand that the PCA’s recent restrictions and operational adjustments have raised concerns regarding transit through the Panama Canal and its potential impact. At this time, Maersk continues to be able to secure timely canal transits in support of our customers,” the company said.

It is taking necessary precautions to minimize impact on operations, including:

  • Collaborating with the PCA to secure the necessary transit slots. By scheduling transits between 30 and 14 days before arrival, depending on vessel size and direction, the company aims to protect its transit schedule.
  • Continuing to adapt internal processes to match the updated booking requirements of the Canal, and reviewing weather conditions and operational waiting times in previous ports to secure a transit date that aligns with the original schedule.
  • Continuing access to limited rail connectivity, enabling an alternative container transportation option between the Atlantic and Pacific gateways.

“These measures aim to reduce any potential impact on our ability to transit the Canal as planned and, most importantly, minimize any inconvenience that might impact our customers,” Maersk said.