PCA finds new ways to improve Panama Canal transits and reliability

  • June 18, 2024
  • News

The Panama Canal Authority (PCA) is actively exploring sustainable strategies to enhance the canal’s operational resilience, including the potential introduction of a new reservoir and the permanent adoption of a pre-booking system.

In response to last year’s severe drought, prompted by El Niño, the PCA had to limit the number of daily transits through the canal, with a possibility of reducing them to 18 per day in February. Later, with various mitigation measures, the lowest number of transits was maintained at 20.

The canal is designed for 36 transits daily, but due to these restrictions, significant shipping delays occurred. By the end of the previous month, the canal resumed its full capacity, and all affected liner services returned to normal operations.

Dr. Ricaurte Vásquez Morales, the canal administrator, highlighted that the PCA is now focused on “long-term solutions” to improve the canal’s dependability. He emphasized the canal’s critical role in the consistent transit of goods, particularly energy commodities, which are vital for global markets. He further acknowledged the disruptions to global trade over the past year due to various risks. A promising solution under consideration is the construction of a new reservoir, which could facilitate up to 11 additional transits. However, this project would require support from the government and local communities, and the specifics regarding its likelihood and timeline remain uncertain.

Furthermore, Dr. Vásquez Morales mentioned the PCA’s intention to make the reservation system, which was used to manage the reduced transit slots during the drought, a permanent feature. This system, which was previously used for about 70% of transits, significantly improved the canal’s reliability by reducing waiting times. In the first quarter, there was a 10-hour reduction in wait times compared to the previous year, leading to increased efficiency and environmental benefits due to decreased vessel idling and carbon emissions.

The PCA also updated its regulations, allowing vessels with reservations to transit up to two days earlier than scheduled. Dr. Morales concluded by stressing the importance of continuous investment and innovation to maintain the canal’s viability amidst changing threats and trade patterns. He pointed out that climate variability, particularly events like El Niño, poses a long-term risk to the canal’s operations, and with the growth of Panama’s population and maritime trade, the water demand is expected to rise.