Panama Canal Drought Is Severely Impacting Global Cargo Ship Traffic

A severe drought has been threatening shipping on the Panama Canal, the waterway responsible for facilitating the movement of 40% of the cargo ship traffic worldwide. Nearly two-thirds of the whole canal’s traffic is headed for — or leaving — the US.

The canal, a linchpin linking the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, is famous for its capability to save time and billions of dollars by offering vessels a shortcut around the tip of South America. The Panama Canal system also depends on the lakes whose levels are close to the minimum, mentioned Boris Moreno, the VP of operations for this canal.

Panama Canal
Representation Image

The region home to the canal has experienced an unforeseen dry season, leading to a huge decline in water levels in the canal that relies on fresh water to operate. As a result, the canal’s day-to-day operations have been disrupted, with the number of vessels sailing via each day reduced to 32 from 36. That has resulted in delays and major traffic congestion while at sea.

Besides, some vessels are compelled to carry nearly 40% less cargo to prevent hitting rock bottom at low-water levels.

Moving vessels via the canal’s system of locks takes up vast quantities of fresh water, ranging from 55–125 million gallons for each ship, based on the sizes. A huge portion of that water gets typically flushed into the ocean, and the Panama Canal Authority has now started deploying methods for storing and reusing some of the water to address this crisis.

Besides, the authority is also considering diverting the water from other rivers and constructing more reservoirs, as the lakes that feed the canal serve as the key source of drinking water for Panama City.

As climate change means hotter temperatures coupled with prolonged dry spells in the tropics, the critical canal’s long-term viability is currently a concern to many.

Climate change is accurate, and they are dependent on the climate, explained Ricaurte Vasquez Morales, the canal’s administrator.

Antonio Dominguez, the managing director for shipping major Maersk, so far the largest single user of the canal, mentioned that he worries that a prolonged drought can result in delays as well as increased costs for shipping, affecting Christmas merchandise along with other consumer goods and making things all the more expensive.

Globally, climate change is impacting global commerce, and Dominguez mentions something needs to be done about it.

References: Paramount Plus, CBS

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