As it closed its 2008 fiscal year, the Canal reported a slight decline in overall transits and tonnage, though there was growth in tanker and passenger business.
The lessening in transits was just 0.1%, with 14,721 in 2008 compared to 14,702 last year. Using its Panama Canal/Universal Measurement System (PC/UMS) calculations, tonnage through the Canal was down 1.1%, from 312.9 million PC/UMS tons in 2007 to 309.6 PC/UMS tons in 2008.
The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) attributes the increase in tanker traffic to the fact that natural gas supplies used for generation of electricity in Chile from Argentina were suspended. As a result, petroleum from the US Gulf Coast to Chile increased. For the Canal, tanker traffic was up 4.8% during the year, to 2,067 transits compared to last year’s 1,972. Tanker tonnage was up 8.6%.
Transits of passenger vessels were up 17.6%, from 205 to 241. A reason for the gain, according to ACP, was that more smaller cruise ships made transits. Transit by container ships dropped from 3,622 in 2007 to 3,544 in 2008. At the same time, movement by dry bulk vessels was up to 2,420 from 2,406.
Commenting on fiscal year figures, ACP executive vice president of operations, Manuel Benítez, said, “The Panama Canal remains on sound operational footing, providing the safe, reliable and efficient service our customers have come to know and expect. Though a slowing US economy has slightly reduced cargo shipments traveling to and from US ports via the waterway, the Canal actually experienced some growth this fiscal year among key segments.”
ACP notes that during the second quarter the Canal experienced a surge in arrivals at the time maintenance was being performed on the Miraflores and Pedro Miguel locks. This resulted in an increase of 13.3% in Canal Waters Time—the average time, including waiting time, it takes a ship to navigate the waterway. Year-end totals were 31.55 hours in 2008 compared to 2007’s 27.84 hours.
The canal has a vessel booking system, used by 60% of its oceangoing transits. Customers had requested increases in the number of daily slots available. The ACP increased the number from 25 to 27. However, use of the system declined to 92.73% from 94.98% year over year.