Drought puts the Panama Canal under pressure

Panama was about to impose weight restrictions on ships transiting its canal, until a last-minute storm lifted its perilously low water levels last week.

The Panama Canal is one of the world’s busiest trade routes: 40% of all US container traffic passes through the 82km canal each year.

But it’s also vulnerable to rainfall variations: its ‘lock’ system uses huge amounts of fresh water to lift ships 26m up and then lower them back down at the other end.

Intrigue’s take: Much of the cargo that’s already in transit was loaded before the recent storms arrived, on the assumption Panama would impose the weight restrictions as planned.

So, those baguette slipperslightsabre chopsticks, and Nicholas Cage shower curtains you ordered might still be a little delayed.

Also worth noting:

  • The canal authority chief has attributed the severity of Panama’s drought to climate change, saying water shortages used to occur every five years, but they now occur every three years.
  • One continent over, the Suez Canal just recorded a record revenue of $9.4B in the 2022/23 financial year.
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