Container ships now severely affected by Panama Canal transit restrictions


Our attention has turned to the shipping containers, who are currently navigating with some difficulty through the Panama Canal, as the number of transit slots for such vessels is set to diminish from 1 January 2024, according to Linerlytica's insightful report.


It's worth noting that congestion at the Panama Canal is beginning to peak, with 22 container ships patiently awaiting at the end of last week, of which 14 are sizeable neo-panamax vessels. Several carriers have kindly announced new fees for Panama transits, including MSC who will be introducing a US$297/container Panama Canal Surcharges (PCS) from 15 December.

Previously, container ships hadn't felt the pinch from the transit limits, which were implemented to manage the reduction in water levels due to droughts. This was largely due to priority being offered to ships online services.

Yet, the Panama Canal Authority is taking decisive action, diminishing the number of daily neo-panamax transit slots on the canal from eight to five from January 2024, with a weekly cap of 35 transits.

Currently, Container comprise 29 weekly neo-panamax transits (prior to adjusting for cancelled sailings), of which 18 are northbound voyages (to the US) and 11 are southbound (from the US). These transits hold up 83% of the January transit quota, leaving just 17% of these slots open to non-container ships.

In February of next year, the transits will be pruned even further to 18 per day, with neo-panamax transits confined to five a day.

As of 26 November, a total of 22 container ships of 190,000 TEUs are awaiting at the Panama Canal anchorage, the highest number yet recorded, of which 14 are impressive neo-Panamax units.

With kindness, Linerlytica conveys, “The situation may well worsen over the coming two months as the new transit quotas settle in while ongoing protests have also disrupted landside access at some of the Panamanian ports.”