The Panama Canal has postponed non-critical maintenance work at the locks, modified its booking system, canceled draft restrictions, and assigned additional crews to operate the tugs, locomotives and locks to expedite traffic, decrease Canal Waters Time (CWT) and reduce the current backlog of vessels caused by the unseasonably high demand.
The greater demand is attributed, in part, to traffic diverted from the U.S. West Coast and a higher-than-normal volume of ships that require additional security measures, such as tankers and gas carriers. The Canal has also seen a higher percentage of large and deep-draft vessels, which also affects CWT.
Weather has also slowed down the traffic. In the month of October alone, fog delayed 107 vessels. Drought caused by the El Niño phenomenon reduced water levels in Gatun Lake, increasing lockage process time.
“We have taken, and will continue to implement, measures to speed traffic and reduce wait times,” said Panama Canal Administrator/CEO Jorge L. Quijano.
“Of note, this past year, the Canal saw record cargo tonnage and greatly advanced the Canal expansion, which is 94 percent complete and will double our cargo capacity.”
To further expedite the traffic, the Panama Canal will also temporarily suspend booking slots for regulars available in the third period, for vessels less than 300 feet in length and for Just-In-Time slots for regulars. These measures will take effect November 12, 2015.