The Panama Canal Authority says vessel transits are rebounding as world trade recovers from 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, Ilya Espino de Marotta, its deputy administrator, said in an interview at the canal locks.
The canal expects to see about 13,000 ship transits this fiscal year, up from 12,245 last year. Shippers carrying goods between the U.S. East Coast and Asia remain the canal’s main customers, he said.
The canal has received fewer cancellations this year than in 2020 and vehicle carriers are slowly returning, said Marotta Hawthorn, an engineer who led the $5.25 billion canal expansion project that opened in 2016.
Cruise ships, which were one of the hardest-hit segments, are starting to book canal berths later this year, with more cruise ships planning to return in 2022.
The canal expects to receive 429 million tons of cargo and collect $3.3 billion in revenue by fiscal 2021, which ends Sept. 30. That figure compares with 475 million tons and $3.4 billion in 2020. The canal authority oversaw the container ship that got stuck in the Suez Canal this year and disrupted global shipping, but the two waterways have important differences, Marotta’s Espino said.
In Panama, ship captains relinquish control of their vessels to canal authority pilots, who are more familiar with the route. In addition, the Panama Canal is shorter than the Suez Canal and does not usually experience major windstorms, he added.