Panama Canal slashes booking slots as drought worsens

Expanded Panama Canal handles its largest containership ever 


The Panama Canal announced a series of sharp reductions in booking slots to just 18 daily by February 2024 following the driest month of October in 73 years.

The Panama Canal stated in an Advisory to Shipping dated 30 October that “based on the rainfall projections for the following weeks, which as of today is expected to be 38% less for the rest of the year, the ACP finds it necessary to further reduce the daily transit capacity to postpone the need for additional draught reductions below the current 13.41m (44 feet).”

The canal, which has a normal capacity for 38 to 40 daily transits, has been operating at a total of 32 daily transits between the two sets of locks (neo-panamax and Panamax) since July 30 and was scheduled to go to 30 assigned slots on November 1. However, the Canal Authority is outlining more drastic cuts reducing the number of guaranteed booking slots to just 18 by February next year.

“From November 3, 2023, to November 6, 2023, the number of booking slots will be reduced to 25, and from November 7 to November 30, 2023, the number of booking slots will be reduced to 24.

“In addition, from December 1 to December 31, 2023, the number of booking slots will further be reduced to 22, and from January 1, 2024, to January 31, 2024, the number of booking slots will be reduced to 20. For booking dates beginning February 1, 2024, and until further notice, the number of booking slots will be reduced to 18 per day,” it said.

Reservation of booking slots are particularly popular with container lines that need to guarantee the date of transiting the waterway so as to keep to fixed day schedules.

The cost of reservation slots soared to record highs at auctions after the cuts were announced mid-year. Larger containerships have already been forced to sail with smaller loads or offload containers for transhipment across Panama, an option not available to gas carriers and bulkers.

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