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Panama Canal transits plunge as larger ships are turned away

The official Panama Canal transit numbers for November are out — and they’re ugly. November could be the tip of the iceberg. Reservation slots are being slashed further this month and in January.

The total number of transits declined 22% in November versus October, according to just-released data from the Panama Canal Authority (ACP). And for the first time since the drought began, the numbers are not just falling at the older, smaller Panamax locks. They’re also declining sharply at the larger Neopanamax locks, which debuted in 2016.

The Neopanamax locks are a crucial conduit for high-capacity container vessels bringing goods from Asia to U.S. East and Gulf Coast ports, and for liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) and liquefied natural gas (LNG) carriers transporting exports from the U.S. Gulf to Asia.

Transits through the Neopanamax locks fell 28% in November versus October, while transits through the Panamax locks dropped by 19%.

Container ships, LPG ships and LNG ships were all hard-hit on the Neopanamax side. At the Panamax locks, dry bulk shipping was the biggest decliner, by far. 

This time of year is the height of the export season for American farmers, when grain cargoes traditionally move via the Panama Canal from the U.S. Gulf to Asia.

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