THE Panama Canal Authority has opened up a few more daily transit slots as water levels gradually improve in the drought-stricken Gatun Lakes.

The Authority this week said it will provide two additional slots per day for auction for the Panamax locks from this Monday [18 March] and a further slot from the following Monday, to accommodate growing demand for transits.

“These measures allow the majority of vessels that want to transit the Canal to have a better chance of obtaining a reservation,” the authority said.

“Panama Canal specialists are closely monitoring the current water situation, and the measures announced today, published in the Advisory to Shipping, will remain in effect until conditions warrant changes, which will be announced in a timely manner.”

The available daily slots will thus increase to 27 which, however, remain well short of the pre-drought quota of 36. It is, though, a substantial improvement on a February forecast of just 18.

The Lakes were plagued by low freshwater levels for much of 2023, causing Canal draft and passage restrictions, mostly thanks to a severe El Niño. Good rainfall in November and December has seen the situation gradually improve.

There is now only one ANZ container service using Panama, that being the CMA CGM PAD/Marfet NASP weekly operation to/from Europe via East Coast North America.  Earlier this year Maersk Line decided to split its OC1 ANZ-ECNA service into two loops, Atlantic and Pacific, and landbridge cargo from one side of Panama to the other. While neither service operates ships likely to have been limited by the Canal restrictions, its likely Maersk decided slots were better used for more cargo-heavy services, while CMA CGM has re-iterated the need to adhere closely to booking windows or risk long delays.