The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) announced on Wednesday measures to counteract a backlog of vessels that has been building up and leaving more ships than usual to wait at anchor.
Wait times have become extended with some vessels taking as long as 11 days. The usual wait time when things run smoothly should be 24-30 hours.
This traffic jam has been attributed to numerous factors. Among them are: the arrival of greater numbers of large, deep-draft vessels and vessels needing extra security checks; maintenance work; fog; El Nino-related lack of rain affecting the water levels in Gatun Lake, an artificial lake on which Canal lock operations depend; traffic diverted from US West Coast ports.
Congestion has been mounting on both the Atlantic and Pacific ends of the Canal since late September.
The new measures taken by the ACP – the government agency responsible for the operation and management of the canal – include assigning additional crews to man tugs, locomotives and locks; postponing non-essential maintenance work; easing its booking system; and cancelling draft restrictions.
These measures will be effective from Thursday (November 12).
The Canal is in the final stages of a massive expansion which lately has been dogged by concerns about leaks in newly-built locks. But it is still scheduled to open its expansion, allowing it to accommodate supersized cargo ships, in April 2016.