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More Panama Canal Transits Highlight Rebounding Global Trade

The Panama Canal Authority says vessel transits are rebounding as global trade picks up after the Covid-19 pandemic.

Container ships have led the recovery while liquefied natural gas and liquefied petroleum gas are among the fastest growing segments for the waterway, said Ilya Espino de Marotta, its deputy administrator, in an interview at the canal locks.

The canal expects to see around 13,000 ship transits this fiscal year, compared to 12,245 last year. Shippers taking goods between the U.S. east coast and Asia remain the canal’s top customers, she said.

The canal has received fewer cancellations this year than in 2020 and vehicle carriers are slowly returning, said Espino de Marotta, an engineer who led the canal’s $5.25 billion expansion project which opened in 2016.

Cruise ships, which were among the worst hit segment, are beginning to reserve slots at the canal later this year, with more cruise liners planning returns in 2022.

The canal expects to receive 429 million tons of cargo and collect $3.3 billion in revenue for fiscal year 2021, which ends on September 30. That compares to 475 million tons and $3.4 billion in 2020.

The canal authority monitored the container ship that got stuck in the Suez canal this year and disrupted global shipping, but the two waterways have important differences, Espino de Marotta said.

In Panama, ship captains cede control of their vessels to canal authority pilots who are more familiar with the route. The Panama canal is also shorter than Suez and doesn’t frequently experience big wind storms, she added.


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