Container ships are now being held up in the Panama Canal as the number of transit slots for such vessels will be reduced from 1 January 2024, according to Linerlytica’s report.

Linerlytica noted that congestion at the Panama Canal is starting to build up with 22 container ships waiting at the end of last week, of which 14 are neo-panamax vessels. Several carriers have already announced new fees for Panama transits including MSC who will impose a US$297/container Panama Canal Surcharges (PCS) from 15 December.

Until now, container ships had not been affected by the transit limits, which were effected to manage the drop in water levels due to droughts. This was because priority was given to vessels on liner services. However, the Panama Canal Authority is taking drastic measures, reducing the number of daily neo-panamax transit slots on the canal from eight to five from January 2024, with a weekly limit of 35 transits.

Boxships currently account for 29 weekly neo-panamax transits (before adjustment for blanked sailings) of which 18 are northbound voyages (to the US) and 11 are southbound (from the US). These transits account for 83% of the January transit quota, leaving just 17% of these slots to non-container ships.

In February next year, the transits will be reduced further to 18 a day, with neo-panamax transits to be restricted to five a day.

As of 26 November, 22 container ships of 190,000 TEUs are waiting at the Panama Canal anchorage, the highest number recorded so far, of which 14 are neo-Panamax units.

Linerlytica said: “The situation will worsen over the coming two months as the new transit quotas kick in while ongoing protests have also affected landside access at some of the Panamanian ports.”

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