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The Restricted Panama Canal’s Effect on Global Trade

28 March 2024 Windward

The ecological disaster caused by the sinking of the Rubymar is far from the only event affecting maritime trade. Since August, the drying Panama Canal, a vital Atlantic-Pacific shortcut, cannot accommodate the $270 billion worth of cargo that flows through it annually. This has led to significant changes in shipping patterns and vessel activity, as analyzed by Windward’s AI-driven technology.

Windward’s analysis highlights a dramatic shift in maritime traffic over the past two years:

  • Container vessels and bulk carriers: both container vessels and bulk carriers have hit record lows in terms of the number of area visits. There has been a 30% decrease in area visits by container vessels owned by the six major carriers – COSCO, CMA CGM, MSC, Maersk, Hapag-Lloyd, and ONE – and a 51% decrease for bulk carriers. January 2024 marks the lowest number of area visits by container vessels and bulk carriers in the past two years.

  • Oil product tankers: in stark contrast, oil product tankers have seen a 39% increase in area visits, suggesting a shift in the types of vessels navigating through the altered maritime landscape caused by the canal’s restrictions.

There are three potential reasons for the discrepancy between tankers vs. container ships and bulk carriers:

  1. Tankers are lighter than container ships and bulk carriers

  2. Tankers are generally smaller, with mid-sized vessels like Suezmax averaging around 275 meters in length, compared to large container ships, such as the New Panamax at 366 meters

  3. The Biden administration’s removal of a broad array of sanctions against Venezuela’s oil and gas sector

For a comprehensive analysis of the restricted Panama Canal’s impact on global trade, read their full report.

For more insights on the impact of the disruptive environment on global trade:


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