Ship queue grows at both ends of Panama Canal and congestion builds

Source: The Loadstar
Date: 14th August 2023

Draught limits on vessels seeking passage through the Panama Canal continue to show an extensive reach throughout the global supply chain.

The team at eeSea is actively tracking the number of key indicators, including day-to-day congestion just outside of the canal, as well as bordering ports, vessel diversions and the offloading of extraneous cargo.

There are approximately 58 mainline vessels predicted to take passage through the strait over the course of the next week, ten of those expected within the next 24 hours.

Eleven vessels are in the immediate vicinity of the southern passage, six are to the north and four are in transit; which brings the current congestion to 81%.

According to our analysts, an ideal wait time at the canal was somewhere between two to three hours prior to the restrictions, and the total transit time was approximately nine hours. Those wait times have increased significantly, up to five days in some edge cases, and we frequently see vessels exceeding the standard transit time by several hours or more.

The APL Le Havre, for example, arrived yesterday at around 8am local time and is yet to complete its passage. Note that these numbers pertain to containerships, not reefers, ro-ro, or breakbulk vessels. In light of that, the total traffic is likely higher than reported by our team.

Tacking on to this trend there are, of course, longer wait times for neighbouring ports, being called before and after the strait transit. Balboa and Manzanillo in particular have both seen steady increases in congestion, from 27% up to 40%-plus since mid-July.

The One Maxim arrived in anchorage outside Panama on 6 August, completed its passage approximately 24 hours later and then went into anchorage for another four days before finally berthing in Balboa on 11 August.

As for alternative routes and measures taken; there are a large number of vessels that have chosen to offload extraneous cargo in order to offset draught and make their way through the canal. Eleven such vessels are expected to make an inducement call in Balboa prior to traversing Panama this month alone.

A more extreme measure has been to omit the canal entirely on the return leg to Asia.

Since the beginning of restrictions, at the start of June, services like the Ocean Alliance’s AWE5 and AWE8 have seen 10 vessels skip the canal in favour of taking the longer route through the Suez Canal, or even sailing past the Cape of Good Hope, to get back to China.

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