Panama Canal records dip in cargo volume
The Panama Canal experienced a slight dip in the amount of cargo passing through the strategic isthmus in the past year. Total tonnage declined 1.1 percent to 309.6 million tons compared to 312.9 million tons in fiscal year 2007, according to figures released by the Panama Canal Authority.
In September, PCA Chief Executive Alberto Aleman Zubieta indicated that volumes would remain flat.
It is the first time since 2002 that canal volumes have not grown. The decline is a symptom of the soft U.S. economy and less demand for imports. Economic consultants Global Insight are forecasting that container volumes at U.S. ports will fall 6.5 percent in 2008.
Vessel transits of the Canal remained flat, down 0.1 percent, at 14,702. Container transits dropped, however, from 3,622 to 3,544 during the fiscal ending Sept. 30. The canal experienced greater use (3.9 percent) of its electronic reservation system to 8,167 transits.
On the bright side, tanker traffic rose 4.8 percent to 2,067 transits on the strength of petroleum exports from the U.S. Gulf coast to Chile for electricity production following suspension of natural gas supplies from Argentina, the PCA said. Cruise vessel traffic went up 17.6 percent to 241 transits and dry bulk traffic essentially remained constant at 2,420 transits.
PCA said waiting to navigate the canal increased 13.3 percent in large measure because of many arrivals during maintenance work on the main locks during the second quarter.
The official accident rate rose from 0.68 accidents per 1,000 transits to 1.09 accidents per 1,000 transits this fiscal year although total incidents dropped from 119 to 84. An official accident is one in which a formal investigation is requested and conducted.
PCA is in the midst of a major expansion project to add an extra set of locks that can handle much larger vessels. The work is projected to be completed in 2014. ' Eric Kulisch