Panama Canal reduces workforce, booking cancellations surge

Expanded Panama Canal handles its largest containership ever 


The Panama Canal is set to operate with a reduced workforce for at least 14 days, and there has been a surge in booking cancellations primarily from the cruise sector.

Panama Canal administrator Ricaurte Vasquez told a video conference on Friday that the waterway is operating with a workforce of 3,600 of its 10,000 employees, as part of the temporary and latest measures taken by the Canal to confront the global COVID-19 pandemic. This will continue for at least 14 days.

As of 26 March, the Canal had confirmed seven positive cases of coronavirus. 200 persons are in voluntary isolation and 600 other workers are being forced by the Ministry of Health to quarantine their homes due to contact with sick family members or spouses.

Most of the workers have been sent home for two weeks of vacation, while others working remotely, and those who are part of the daily operation in the transit of ships are and will be assigned to work with the same crews to have the option of isolating the whole group, in case there is a new case of COVID-19.

The Canal administration and the workers are discussing making changes in the rotation of shifts, with the goal of having fewer people exposed during each vessel transit.

Vasquez said 52 transits have been cancelled to date: 35 correspond to cruise ships and 17 to other types of vessels, such as containers, which represent one of the most important segments of the Canal.

He added that he could not say what will be the COVID-19 impact on Canal operations since the situation “is barely two weeks old. The market has not reacted in full force.”  It will depend on the global containment of the outbreak, the measures taken by the ports of the United States and how quickly the production and industrial zones of Asia are reactivated. “What is happening on the US east coast is not yet clear to us,” he said

However, “the economy is going to be slower. Consequently, the operation of the Panama Canal is going to be negatively affected. How much, remains to be seen”. “We will wait until end of April to have a clearer assessment of the situation.”

“The coronavirus crisis is very different from any other we had previously seen. We will continue working so that we can allocate resources safely, complying with health standards to serve customers,” said Vasquez.

Copyright Ships & Ports Ltd. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit given to as the source.