fbpx

Canal Connection

English version

September

Ask the Experts:
Daniel Muschett and Jose Reyes

The need for a sustainable supply of water at the Panama Canal has been a top priority since the Canal experienced its fifth driest year in 70 years in 2019. Since then, the Canal implemented a freshwater fee, extended water conservation measures, and made changes to its booking system. As a result of these actions, the Panama Canal now offers a maximum authorized draft of 50 feet at the Neopanamax Locks, a significant improvement from the 43-foot draft in July 2019, confirming the effectiveness of said measures.

However, there is still a critical need for the Panama Canal to adopt a long-term solution to securing its water supply for the next 50 years. Therefore, on September 7, 2020, the Panama Canal published a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for the pre-qualification of potential offerors for the engineering, design and construction of a new water management system that will fundamentally change the way Panama handles its water resources. The Canal expects to invest up to $2 billion in this project, making it the waterway’s largest infrastructure undertaking since the Expanded Canal.

To better understand why and how the Panama Canal will approach this project, we spoke with Panama Canal’s Vice President of Water Administration, Daniel Muschett, and Vice President of Water Projects, Jose Reyes, to elaborate on the scope of this project and its long-term impact on the Canal.

Daniel Muschett

What lessons learned from previous projects and the Canal Expansion are you looking to apply to the design and construction of the new water management system? 

First and foremost, the needs and livelihoods of the communities within and outside the Panama Canal watershed are of upmost importance to us. Our experience studying other watersheds across Panama to determine their potential to supply water to the Canal, as well as our track record in the engineering, design and construction of large infrastructure projects have taught us so. We also learned how to work better with our partners across government agencies, multilateral organizations and within the Canal. To that end, we can only achieve our objective to increase water availability and build capacity to manage it by engaging local communities throughout this process, so that they can benefit both economically and socially. 

Can you speak to the innovative aspects of this project? 

We are proud to share there are various innovative components of the new water management system. For instance, the use of information technology, such as sensors, geographic information systems, satellite mapping and data-sharing tools, will allow the Canal to obtain real-time, automated data to ensure an optimal water level for operations year-round. A lynchpin to this effort, research and development will take center stage through the newly created water research center, in partnership with the Technological University of Panama (UTP). Together, we will work to identify innovative solutions that mitigate the effects of climate change on water availability, including deployment of the latest technologies like artificial Intelligence.

We have also infused innovation throughout the project cycle to push for a more sustainable future for Panama and the global maritime industry. Specifically, we will make sure this project will drive improvements to the social and economic wellbeing of the local communities by creating jobs, improving local infrastructure, and advancing the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

What is the Panama Canal already doing to conserve water and protect the environment?

The Panama Canal continues to implement measures that conserve water in its operations such as cross-filling lockages, a technique that sends water during transits between the two lanes at the Panamax Locks and already saves the same amount of water used in six lockages each day. Other ongoing measures include the closure of the Gatun hydropower station, elimination of hydraulic assist at the Panamax Locks, use of tandem lockages (two ships in one lockage, whenever possible) and use of water-saving basins at the Neopanamax Locks. The Canal also implemented a series of water measures in February 2020, such as a freshwater fee, a common industry response to low water levels. Together, these efforts have allowed the Canal to secure a steady draft increase after less than three months of implementation. 

The Canal also continued its seasonal measures to protect the migratory paths of whales, dolphins and other large aquatic animals in accordance with the International Maritime Organization (IMO). From August 1 – November 30, 2020, ships must stay within designated navigation areas known as Traffic Separation Schemes (TSS), which decrease the overlap between vessels entering or exiting the Canal and migrating whales.

Jose Reyes

Why is this project different from previous capital investments at the Canal? 

This water management system is different from other major investments because the final outcome will not simply be a piece of infrastructure, but a system that will change how Panama manages its water resources. We are the fifth rainiest country, tied with Costa Rica, and have an opportunity to revolutionize how we think of the future and the control we have over our water sources—from facilitating global trade to providing clean drinking water. This system will afford us an optimal level of water in our navigational channels year-round, which will be even more important as trade patterns continue to change due to the coronavirus. 

This project will also be critical to Panama’s economic recovery from the coronavirus. Though there is no certainty as to how many jobs it will bring just yet, this project will span several years and require many hands-on deck.

Why is water quantity, quality and control a key outcome of the project?

Water is our main priority. We need to guarantee an operational level of water 24/7 and 365 days a year, and secure enough supply for human consumption. An integrated water management system will allow the Canal to have control over the water levels at the Gatun Lake during any season. In order to gain this amount of control, the system will also need to have the necessary technology to properly forecast water levels and effectively control water flow to our navigational channel to ensure sustained operations. To manage water quantity, this new system will improve our water storage capacity, which is especially important when droughts occur, like we saw in 2019. Last but not least, quality is key to this project as we need to ensure that water quality is kept according to standards for drinking water and salinity levels are sufficient for human consumption and optimal for transit operations.

Can you elaborate on the engineering concept of the project?

We have envisioned a few scenarios for this system over the past few years, from segmenting the Gatun Lake for a reservoir to a pipeline that draws water from a lake with higher water levels to the Canal. Ultimately, there is no simple answer or single project that will solve the ever-changing environmental and business challenges impacting the Canal, so we are focused on implementing an integrated system.

The conceptualization of the project will be known once we chose the most qualified firm through the RFQ process. We aim to short-list the most-qualified firms by the end of the year, inviting each to submit their best value proposals for a portfolio of water management projects at the waterway.

Why should companies take part in this project and participate in the RFQ process?

Socially and environmentally conscious bidders should consider applying for this once-in-a-lifetime project that will undoubtedly leave an impact on global trade and Panama for many years to come.
For more information, please visit:
https://apps.pancanal.com/sli/LicitacionesBusqueda/Welcome

About the Panama Canal
The Panama Canal Authority is an autonomous legal entity of the Republic of Panama in charge of the operation, administration, management, preservation, maintenance, and modernization of the Panama Canal, as well as its activities and related services, so that the Canal may operate in a safe, continuous, efficient manner. For more information, please refer to the Canal’s website: http://www.pancanal.com or follow us on Twitter @thepanamacanal.

August

Carefully Choreographed Maintenance, 100 Years in the Making, Completed on the Panama Canal Locks

106 years ago this month, the Panama Canal opened and reshaped world trade forever. Since then, the waterway has seen over a million vessels transit its locks, and come to serve 144 trade routes that connect 1,700 ports across 160 countries today.

The key to the Panama Canal’s continued, smooth operations over the past 106 years? A combination of its committed workforce and a rigorous maintenance program perfected over the past century and modernized with 21st century technology. Both were in full force this month as maintenance was carried out at the Panamax Locks across two days as part of the Panama Canal’s routine efforts to ensure a safe and reliable service.

Carefully Choreographed Maintenance, 100 Years in the Making, Completed on the Panama Canal Locks

To minimize the impact on transits, maintenance was performed simultaneously at the Miraflores and Pedro Miguel Locks between August 25 and 26. This required support from 120 workers and multiple divisions, including the Locks Division, Industrial Shipyards, Engineering and Dredging. While the West Lane of the Locks were closed during this period, transits continued on a regular basis through the Neopanamax Locks, as well as the East Lane of the Panamax Locks.

The floating crane, Titán, aiding maintenance efforts at the Miraflores Locks

At Miraflores, the work involved replacing yoke bushings and girders, which hold the gate when in regular operation. Given the gates at the Miraflores Locks weigh between 353.8 and 662.2 tons, the team brought in the floating Titán crane to lift the gate and then replace the bushings. The efforts took 34 hours to complete.

A gate is lifted as part of routine maintenance at the Miraflores Locks

Meanwhile, tire fenders at the Pedro Miguel Locks were replaced, an endeavor that spanned 12 hours. Gerardo Ríos, infrastructure maintenance foreman for the Pedro Miguel Locks, explained that, “the two fenders help the vessel and the captain align the boat with the chamber. These tires rotate, protecting the infrastructure of the Canal as well as the vessel.”

A reminder of the Panama Canal’s modernization over the past 106 years, the waterway’s fenders were originally constructed with spring-loaded wood, though they have since been upgraded to rubber fenders with a vulcanized layer of very low friction Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene. The fenders used today weigh 14,000 pounds each and are replaced as part of maintenance programs or when they show some level of wear as a result of their intended use.

Maintenance efforts underway at the Miraflores Locks

These efforts are just one of the over 100 maintenance projects that the Panama Canal performs annually. In fact, each year the Panama Canal invests roughly $200 million to sustain the waterway’s infrastructure and equipment, inspecting every structure at the waterway at least once, and analyzing all machinery, buildings, and lock components even more frequently.

With each project, the team plans, announces, and carefully choreographs its moves weeks in advance. This is all to ensure that the Panama Canal’s operations remain smooth and steady today, and for 106 more years to come.

About the Panama Canal
The Panama Canal Authority is an autonomous legal entity of the Republic of Panama in charge of the operation, administration, management, preservation, maintenance, and modernization of the Panama Canal, as well as its activities and related services, so that the Canal may operate in a safe, continuous, efficient manner. For more information, please refer to the Canal’s website: http://www.pancanal.com or follow us on Twitter @thepanamacanal.

July

Rebooting Decarbonization: 
The Panama Canal’s Outlook on the Future for Low-Carbon Shipping

By Alexis Rodríguez, Panama Canal Environmental Specialist

Earlier this month, the Panama Canal joined virtual informal talks organized by the International Maritime Organization (IMO). Although focused specifically on short-term measures for reducing GHG from ships, the discussions brought momentum back to the broader, industry-wide efforts around the decarbonization of shipping. These milestones, combined with recent industry announcements, not only signal a turning point in scaling up the shipping sector’s ambitions to achieve decarbonization, but also confirm the Panama Canal’s holistic approach to sustainability and how we can serve as an effective blueprint for maximizing carbon reduction across supply chains.

Early Emissions Ambitions

With more than 90% of the world’s global trade being carried by sea, maritime transport is responsible for 2-3% of global greenhouse (GHG) emissions, according to the IMO. To lessen its environmental impact, the IMO launched an initial strategy in 2018 aimed at securing a low-carbon future for international shipping. The strategy, which is due for revision in 2023, seeks to cut the shipping industry’s GHG emissions per transport work from 2008 levels by at least 40% by 2030, and total annual GHG emissions by at least 50% by 2050 compared to 2008.

The industry and the Panama Canal has made strides in this effort, most notably the adoption of IMO 2020, a regulation mandating that Sulphur content in ships’ fuel oil decrease to 0.5%, from 3.5%. The regulation went into effect on January 1 following years of preparation and coordination and was “implemented successfully without significant disruption” per IMO secretary-general Kitack Lim, signaling the industry’s ability to quickly adapt in the name of sustainability.

However, the conversation soon shifted to the COVID-19 pandemic and related lockdown measures, which caused a sharp decline in global trade. In the first quarter of 2020, merchandise trade shrank by 3% year‑on‑year, according to the World Trade Organization (WTO), and orders for new ships dropped by 53% in the first half of the year, with many other investments and efforts aimed at cutting shipping emissions likely delayed.

A Turning Point

Nevertheless, a few recent developments suggest a renewed commitment to further sustainability across shipping that will carry through in the long run, and that reaffirm the holistic approach to sustainability championed by the Panama Canal. For one, as part of the recently approved recovery package, the European Union voted to include shipping in the EU emissions trading system earlier this month (ETS), and called for the creation of a new fund to back decarbonization efforts in the maritime transport sector.

Secondly, we have seen cargo owners and freight forwarders begin to take on a larger role in the low-carbon transition as consumer demand for sustainable sourcing rises. With supply chain emissions over five times higher than a company’s direct operations, large corporations are carefully looking for opportunities to cut emissions and increasingly selecting suppliers based on their environmental performance.

This has prompted a growing number of leading companies, from consumer brands to shipping lines, to announce new targets and progress in recent weeks. For example, the world’s largest ocean container recorded a decrease in CO2 emissions per container per kilometer by 5.6 percent and 2.5 percent for Dry and Reefer indexes, respectively, in 2019. Schleich GmbH, one of the largest toy manufacturers in Germany, announced last month that it will neutralize its entire sea freight CO2 footprint with the help of Kuehne+Nagel. Unilever and Apple also both recently pledged to have all products and operations be carbon neutral by 2030, following Microsoft, which earlier this year announced it will not only be carbon negative by 2030, but by 2050 will also “remove from the environment all the carbon the company has emitted either directly or by electrical consumption since it was founded in 1975.”

These bold commitments help underscore that decarbonization is good business, marking an exciting turning point for the scaling up of sustainability in shipping. Offering low and ultimately zero-carbon operations are no longer a bonus, but a critical component that must continue to be factored in across a company’s entire value chain, which is where partnership from the Panama Canal and many others will come in.

Optimized Routing to Reduce GHG

At an earlier IMO meeting, Panama presented a document to the IMO entitled: “The optimization of maritime routes as short-term measures to reduce emissions.” It outlined the various factors that impact a ship’s emissions while at sea, ranging from weight of cargo to speed, underscoring that each one must be considered and optimized to cut emissions significantly, a necessary step to meet the IMO’s goal of decreasing CO2 emissions per transport work by at least 40% by 2030 and a total annual GHG emissions by at least 50% by 2050 compared to 2008 across international shipping.

Using insights from the Panama Canal, the proposal called attention to route optimization as a critical tool that, if used across the industry, could offer a tangible, exponential reduction of CO2 and other GHG emissions from ships, in addition to costs, fuel and other savings. An optimal route can amount to up to 10% of GHG reduction potential, based on time reduction and navigation distances, according to the IMO.

Since opening over a century ago, the Canal has become a key proponent for optimized routing, having directly contributed to the reduction of 800 million tons of CO2 emissions. This is in part because the Panama Canal allows shippers travelling from Asia to the U.S. West Coast to save 12 percent and 18 percent fewer emissions compared to the Suez Canal or Cape of Good Hope route, respectively, by shortening the distance and saving time, fuel and additional costs.

The Panama Canal Blueprint

The waterway is more than a shortcut. In recent years, we have built beyond our core offerings through the Panama Canal Green Route Strategy, which aims to maximize our environmental and operational efficiency. This then allows us, as outlined in our own technical paper to the IMO, to directly contribute to customers’ positive initiatives and technical measures to help reduce their CO2 and GHG emissions.

For example, in 2014, the Panama Canal began promoting the IMO’s implementation of nearby transit separation schemes (TSS) and vessel speed reduction programs. Effective August 1 to November 30 each year, the measures reduce the risk of collisions between migrating whales and vessels traveling to and from the waterway, while also lowering their GHG and pollutant gas emissions by an average of 75%, depending on the type, size, and fuel of each vessel. This amounts to over 15,000 tons of CO2.

Two years later, the completion of the Panama Canal Expansion in 2016 significantly expanded the route’s emission savings for shippers by allowing them to transport even greater amounts of cargo in less trips, saving time, fuel and emissions. In its first year, the Expanded Canal saved an estimated 17 million tons of CO2 for shippers, a figure that is expected to swell to 160 million tons by the end of its first decade.

The waterway has also leveraged technology to optimize its all-water route, demonstrating its important role in “digitalization and port calls optimization”, improving operational and environmental efficiency in the logistics industry. In 2017, the Panama Canal partnered with the Panama Maritime Authority and other Panamanian bodies to launch Panama’s Maritime Single Window (VUMPA), streamlining logistics paperwork for international customers passing through the country, a notable feat that required extensive inter-agency coordination and is credited with saving over 300,000 paper forms and 3,200 hours on an annual basis. That same year, the Canal’s Green Connection program also introduced the Emissions Calculator, a tool that allows shippers to measure their GHG emissions per route, including the total emissions saved by choosing the Panama Canal over other routes. Both the VUMPA and Emissions Calculator were upgraded in 2019 to include improved emissions tracking technology.

By taking these steps, the Panama Canal has developed an all-encompassing blueprint for the reduction of CO2 emissions, which we will continue to advocate for and build upon in the months and years ahead alongside our customers and industry peers. Although the COVID-19 pandemic is still a pressing challenge, the subsequent recovery gives us an opportunity to rebuild better. It is critical that we take this moment to come together, raise our ambitions and steer the planet towards a more sustainable and inclusive future.

About the Panama Canal
The Panama Canal Authority is an autonomous legal entity of the Republic of Panama in charge of the operation, administration, management, preservation, maintenance, and modernization of the Panama Canal, as well as its activities and related services, so that the Canal may operate in a safe, continuous, efficient manner. For more information, please refer to the Canal’s website: http://www.pancanal.com or follow us on Twitter @thepanamacanal.

June

Ask the Expert: Silvia de Marucci  

This month, the Panama Canal celebrates the 4th anniversary of the Panama Canal Expansion, the waterway’s largest enhancement project since its opening in 1914. Following a decade’s worth of planning and construction, the Expanded Canal was officially inaugurated on June 26, 2016, a historic moment for the waterway, as well as the people of Panama and the global maritime industry. The Expanded Canal has since come to represent the waterway’s ability to adapt and meet the industry’s growing needs, even when it involves taking on unprecedented challenges.

To celebrate this anniversary, we spoke with Silvia de Marucci, Manager of the Market Analysis & Customer Relations Division, to hear about the Expanded Canal’s operations and impact at the Panama Canal so far.

Can you describe the Expanded Canal’s offerings?
The expansion included the construction of a new set of locks on the Atlantic and Pacific sides of the waterway. This created a third lane of traffic that doubled the cargo capacity of the Panama Canal and paved the way for more shipping options, better maritime service, and heightened supply chain reliability.

The Expanded Canal also strengthened the waterway’s value as the green route of maritime trade. For one, despite being 70 feet wider and 18 feet deeper than those in the original Canal, the Neopanamax Locks use less water due to water-savings basins that recycle water during each transit. Their size also allows shippers to consolidate cargo on larger ships that take fewer trips, reducing emissions.

How has the Expanded Canal affected transits over the past four years?
In 2016, the Expanded Canal accounted for 8% of transits at the waterway. Since then, shippers have come to capitalize on the time- and cost-savings offered by the Expanded Canal, bringing new segments, larger quantities of existing segments, and rerouted shipping lines to the waterway. Four years later, the Expanded Canal now represents not only 27% of transits, but also 50% of tonnage at the Panama Canal.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic and related economic impact affected the Expanded Canal?
As the pandemic grew, we acted quickly to safeguard our sustained operations as well as the health of our workforce, customers, and the crew of ships in transit in response to the coronavirus pandemic. In March, the waterway instituted heightened procedures, including a reduction of on-site staff to only those essential for transit operations, and mandating their strict compliance with protocols set forth by the Panamanian health authorities.

So far, transits at the Expanded Canal have remained stable with an average of eight to nine transits per day. The Expanded Canal has also helped bolster the Panama Canal’s role in facilitating the passage of critical global supply chains in recent months, helped in part by the heightened capacity and efficiency provided by the Neopanamax Locks. So far in our 2020 Fiscal Year, over 13 million tons of cooking gas, 107,000 tons of groceries and 4.9 million tons of grains have traveled through the Neopanamax Locks on their way to communities around the world. Since February alone, the Neopanamax Locks have seen over 164,000 tons of wheat, equivalent to the weight of over twenty Eiffel Towers.

What does the future look like for the Panama Canal?
We are tracking temporary and permanent shifts in trade patterns, including a growing shift from global to regional trade, and evaluating ways to adapt our operations accordingly. Despite the current economic situation, we are still advancing plans to invest in our infrastructure, processes, and people, so we are prepared for our industry’s recovery and growth down the road.
 
One such opportunity includes implementing a long-term solution for water, which will strengthen the Panama Canal’s operational reliability for years to come. This is a top priority for our team, and one that may become the waterway’s second largest capital investment, second only to Expansion.

As the Administrator wrote in May, we see the Expanded Canal as a testament to our commitment to investing ambitiously in our future. For us, the Expansion is still just the beginning of our bright future as the logistics hub of the Americas.

About the Panama Canal
The Panama Canal Authority is an autonomous legal entity of the Republic of Panama in charge of the operation, administration, management, preservation, maintenance, and modernization of the Panama Canal, as well as its activities and related services, so that the Canal may operate in a safe, continuous, efficient manner. For more information, please refer to the Canal’s website: http://www.pancanal.com or follow us on Twitter @thepanamacanal.

May

Panama Canal Secures Steady Draft, Operational Reliability Following Water Measures

Earlier this year, the Panama Canal implemented water saving measures after experiencing the fifth driest year at the Canal in 70 years. Thanks to the long-standing partnership with our customers and their flexibility to adapt to these measures, the Panama Canal has now emerged from its dry season equipped to ensure a competitive draft, and thus steady operations for months to come. Having an operational level of water and transit reliability in the second half of 2020 will be critical for the waterway as it advances its search for long-term water solutions and prepares for coronavirus-driven shifts in trade, as the Panama Canal Administrator outlined earlier this month.

The waterway has carefully monitored its operational water usage since the end of 2018, when rainfall at the watershed was 20 percent below the historic average. This unprecedented drought severely constrained water levels at Gatun and Alhajuela Lakes, the main sources of water for the Canal and half of Panama’s population. Despite the extensive use of water conservation tactics across Canal operations, inadequate draft levels were still projected to significantly restrict cargo transiting the waterway if no further interventions were made.

As a result, on February 15, the Panama Canal adopted a series of bold measures to sustain an operational level of water, including a freshwater surcharge informed by daily water level data at Gatun Lake, a profit-neutral measure that is also a standard practice across the industry. The reservation system was also altered to increase certainty around transit schedules, which allowed for more efficient use of water resources and conservation tactics, such as cross-filling lockages, an innovative technique developed by the Canal team that saves the same amount of water used in six lockages each day by sending water between the two lanes during transits at the Panamax Locks.

The February measures also built upon the progress made by the Canal’s many long-standing conservation initiatives. As one example, the Environmental Economic Incentives Program, or PIEA in Spanish, works to ensure families living along the watershed have the resources, education and other incentives to invest in the long-term sustainability of their property and the surrounding environment. The program has led to reduced rates of runoff and water usage in such communities, as well as the reforestation of over 22,000 acres of land, with over five million seeds planted and 3.5 million tons of C02 captured.

Now, less than three months after the conservation measures were implemented, the water levels at Gatun Lake can accommodate a steady 45-foot draft, higher than projected for the start of the rainy season, which is expected to begin mid-May. Panama’s rainy season official start date will be determined by various environmental factors, such as wind speed, rainfall in the watershed, ocean temperatures in the Gulf of Panama, among other metrics.

On top of minimizing draft restrictions, the Canal has provided relief to its customers during this time of instability by adjusting its reservation system. Developed in response to input gathered by the Panama Canal’s leadership from top customers, the changes introduced late last month offer extended flexibility surrounding fees and swapping booking slots.

Ultimately, this renewed draft reliability will help bolster the resilience of the Panama Canal route in the months ahead as the industry faces economic uncertainty in the aftermath of the coronavirus pandemic. Nonetheless, the Panama Canal’s search for long-term solutions continues. By the end of the year, the team aims to not only request and review engineering proposals, and after that, begin constructing a long-term solution. Having a steady water supply is a top priority for the Canal, and so we will partner with innovative engineers to ensure that we can maintain our reliable service for years to come.

About the Panama Canal
The Panama Canal Authority is an autonomous legal entity of the Republic of Panama in charge of the operation, administration, management, preservation, maintenance, and modernization of the Panama Canal, as well as its activities and related services, so that the Canal may operate in a safe, continuous, efficient manner. For more information, please refer to the Canal’s website: http://www.pancanal.com or follow us on Twitter @thepanamacanal.

April

Our Commitment to Safe, Continued World Trade

Despite the challenging and unpredictable future our world faces, I would like to offer some certainty on behalf of our team at the waterway.

The Panama Canal is operating as normal today and will continue to work with the personnel needed to ensure normal transit operations in the weeks to come.

For over 105 years, we have provided a reliable service to global supply chain, adapting however needed through a century’s worth of ebbs and flows to ensure our route remains open for the communities and economies that depend on it. Now more than ever, we are committed to upholding this service.

To achieve this, we are following an evolving set of COVID-19 response protocols, developed and coordinated with the Ministry of Health of Panama (MINSA) to guarantee our safe and sustained operations, and safeguard the health and wellbeing of our workforce and our customer’s crews.

We began with adopting a series of safety procedures across our operations in January, which have since escalated across our workforce. Recent changes include the reduction of our on-site staff to only those essential to transit operations, and their strict compliance with the guidance set forth by the Panamanian health authorities for all vessel transits, among other efforts.

Throughout this difficult period, our team has remained dedicated and diligent. While we have had some reported cases of COVID-19 among our near 10,000 employees, none has been related to the transit operation, and the Canal will continue to maintain stringent hygiene standards to ensure the safety of our personnel and customers’ crews.

As we begin to better understand the real human and economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Panama Canal team is committed to navigating this new normal head-on to ensure much-needed global supplies and solutions are moving swiftly to their final destinations.
We are grateful to support those around the world who are working to keep our global supply chains moving and our communities and families safe.

Sincerely,


Dr. Ricaurte Vásquez Morales
Panama Canal Administrator

About the Panama Canal
The Panama Canal Authority is an autonomous legal entity of the Republic of Panama in charge of the operation, administration, management, preservation, maintenance, and modernization of the Panama Canal, as well as its activities and related services, so that the Canal may operate in a safe, continuous, efficient manner. For more information, please refer to the Canal’s website: http://www.pancanal.com or follow us on Twitter @thepanamacanal.

March

The Panama Canal‘s Precautionary Actions Against COVID-19

The Panama Canal is closely monitoring the evolving COVID-19 outbreak and has adopted a series of measures to protect its personnel and prevent further spread of the virus.

Since January, ships arriving at the waterway have been required to report if they have visited countries with confirmed cases prior to their arrival. This builds off, and has been followed by, a series of additional actions taken at the waterway.

Vessel Transit Measures

The Panama Canal’s inspection and control personnel already work tirelessly to ensure compliance with regulations on health and prevention of contagious diseases within its waters.

These inspections for contagious risk issues have been carried out for years and are required for all vessels that arrive in the Panama Canal waters.

The existing controls are:

  • The vessel is required to report its conditions on board and does so through the Panama Maritime Single Window System (VUMPA, its acronym in Spanish). In the case of non-compliance and/or providing false information, the vessel is subject to penalties and/or restrictions.
  • A Panama Canal admeasurer embarks and confirms the questions included in the Maritime Health Declaration through a form previously completed in the VUMPA.
  • The admeasurer also questions once again the vessel’s captain or officer in charge in order to reconfirm that there are no sick people or crewmembers showing symptoms on board.
  • If there are any confirmed or suspected cases on board and depending on the symptoms it is concluded that there is a relevant disease on board, the Maritime Health Unit of Panama’s Ministry of Health (MINSA, its acronym in Spanish) is called onboard. During this time, boarding and disembarking is prohibited for people and the yellow flag is flown, denoting that the ship is under quarantine.
  • Next steps are determined following MINSA’s inspection.

In response to COVID-19, the following additional measures have also been taken at the Panama Canal:

  • Vessels are required to report if and when crew changes occurred within 14 days of arrival at ports with COVID-19 cases to MINSA.
  • Panama Canal admeasurers must contact vessels via radio before boarding to confirm all crewmembers onboard are healthy and to verify any recent crew changes.
  • Panama Canal personnel are equipped with masks and alcohol-based hand sanitizer gel.
  • Constant communication is maintained between the Panama Canal and MINSA’s maritime health doctors.
  • MINSA has sent a communication to all shipping companies, requiring that they report any person who has any illness-related symptoms, regardless of whether or not they are related to COVID-19.
About the Panama Canal
The Panama Canal Authority is an autonomous legal entity of the Republic of Panama in charge of the operation, administration, management, preservation, maintenance, and modernization of the Panama Canal, as well as its activities and related services, so that the Canal may operate in a safe, continuous, efficient manner. For more information, please refer to the Canal’s website: http://www.pancanal.com or follow us on Twitter @thepanamacanal.

February

The Panama Canal’s Creative Conservation Tools, by the Numbers

The industry is facing a new reality today as unpredictable weather patterns impact supply chains across the world. In recent years, places like the Port of Montreal in Canada and the Rhine River in Europe have already experienced historically low precipitation rates, forcing each to undertake immediate actions to ensure operational water levels. Now facing a similar challenge, the Panama Canal is also moving forward the only way it knows how—by building resourceful, innovative solutions that keep global maritime trade running smoothly.

In addition to accelerating its search for long-term remedies, the waterway has invested in a series of tools and community programs to strengthen the sustainability of its watershed. Together, they embody the Canal’s creative, community-oriented approach to conservation, and have already made a clear impact, as made clear by the numbers below:

8 Drone Surveillance Flights

The Panama Canal works with Panama’s Ministry of Environment to combat illegal logging and deforestation. The Canal team does so, in part, by using technology, including drones, to monitor forest coverage in the Chagres National Park, which is the source of 44 percent of water in the watershed. In the Fiscal Year 2019, the Canal team completed eight surveillance flights, as well as nine land tours, to monitor the forest coverage and hear updates from individuals across the watershed.

8,167 Land Property Titles

The Panama Canal distributes land titles to families living along the shore of Gatun Lake as part of an effort to ensure legal security for inhabitants of the watershed. By doing so, it also aims to encourage inhabitants to invest in the long-term sustainability of their property and the surrounding environment, in line with a 2016 study by the World Resources Institute (WRI), which found that securing land rights for indigenous and local communities can lead to significant environmental, economic and social benefits. Just last month, the Panama Canal surpassed 8,000 property titles awarded to over 14,000 beneficiaries, some of whom waited decades for land titles, and now have access to bank loans, educational programs, and other formal benefits.

1,000,000 Coffee Plants  

The efficient maintenance of the local water supply is crucial for not only the communities living in the watershed, but also the operation of the Canal. As such, the waterway has partnered with local farmers through its Economic Environmental Incentives Program (PIEA), equipping them with the resources, education programs and other incentives needed to ensure sustainable development in the region. This includes educating participants on sustainable farming practices, such as planting trees to provide shade for their coffee plants and prevent erosion rather than clearing land through less environmentally conscious methods like slash-and-burn. The program has so far led to over a million coffee seedlings planted, among countless other crops, reflecting an unprecedented model of a green economy that serves to benefit the Canal, its neighbors and their shared, productive future.

22,239 Acres Restored

The Canal team is also making strides to reforest broad swaths on land in the watershed as part of PIEA in an effort to promote biodiversity, carbon sequestration and environmental stewardship. The Canal has so far reforested over 22,000 acres of land, with over five million seeds planted and 3.5 million tons of C02 captured. Within the next five years, the waterway aims to reforest at least an additional 10,000 acres.

550 Students, 60 Teachers and 100 Parents

To ensure this spirit of conservation continues in the decades to come, the Panama launched the Watershed Guardians Program last year, educating 550 students, 60 teachers and 100 parents on the value of protecting the watershed. The waterway also hosted over a thousand students for an Environmental Awareness Festival and similar events to further encourage the next generation to explore green commerce and ensure a more sustainable future across Panama and the world.

About the Panama Canal
The Panama Canal Authority is an autonomous legal entity of the Republic of Panama in charge of the operation, administration, management, preservation, maintenance, and modernization of the Panama Canal, as well as its activities and related services, so that the Canal may operate in a safe, continuous, efficient manner. For more information, please refer to the Canal’s website: http://www.pancanal.com or follow us on Twitter @thepanamacanal.

January

Protecting the Canal’s Water Now for a Sustainable Future

Earlier this month, the Panama Canal announced new measures aimed at sustaining an operational level of water and providing reliability to customers as it implements a long-term solution to water. Before the new measures go into effect on February 15, we thought we would revisit the innovative measures already in place by sharing a few frequently asked questions on the topic. Check out our responses below to learn how coffee, cross-filling lockages and other innovative solutions are already helping save water at the Panama Canal.

Why are water conservation measures needed at the Panama Canal?
In 2019, rainfall at the Panama Canal watershed was 20 percent below the historic average, marking the fifth driest year in 70 years. It follows several years of lower than average rainfall coupled by a 10 percent increase in water evaporation levels due to a 0.5-1.5-degree Celsius rise in temperature. Together, this has led to persistently low water levels at Gatun Lake.

What is the Canal currently doing to save water in its operations?
One of the main conservation measures is the use of cross-filling lockages at the Panamax Locks. This technique sends water during transits between the two lanes at the Panamax Locks to optimize the transfer of water between chambers and reduce discharge to the sea. Each day, cross-filling is already saving the Canal the same amount of water used in six lockages. Watch the video below to see how this technique works:

In addition to cross-filling lockages, the Panama Canal has suspended power generation at the Gatun Hydroelectric Plant and hydraulic assistance at the Panamax Locks, the latter of which expedites transits, but requires more use of water. The Canal team also uses water-saving basins at the Neopanamax Locks, and, when vessel sizes allow, coordinates tandem lockages, transiting two ships in the same lock at the same time to save water.

Is the Canal doing anything else to save water?
The Panama Canal has long recognized water as its principal resource, implementing and expanding a myriad of programs that stretch beyond its operations in the name of conservation. One of the Canal’s core programs is the Environmental Economic Incentives Program, or PIEA in Spanish, which offers land titles and sustainable farming classes to local farmers, who in turn, reforest, protect, and cultivate more than 21,000 acres of the local watershed, with coffee as a key crop. The program’s efforts have led to greater yields for farmers, while preventing runoff, ensuring more arable land for future use and preserving water resources and the environment.

So far, results for PIEA are impressive:

  • 126 villages and 1,653 farms benefiting from the program in the watershed
  • 15,000+ land titles delivered
  • 9,000 hectares (22,239 acres) of land reforested
  • 1,600 acres (647.5 hectares) of forest land protected
  • 5,300,000 seeds planted
  • 175% increase in coffee production in the region
  • 4,000+ hectares (9,884 acres) expected to be reforested within the next five years

What is the Panama Canal considering as a potential long-term solution for water management?
The Canal is analyzing and identifying long-term solutions to water availability. The team is currently discussing a series of options to draw water from a lake outside the Watershed, as well as a dam in Gatun Lake that would increase water storage and regulate water flow.

About the Panama Canal
The Panama Canal Authority is an autonomous legal entity of the Republic of Panama in charge of the operation, administration, management, preservation, maintenance, and modernization of the Panama Canal, as well as its activities and related services, so that the Canal may operate in a safe, continuous, efficient manner. For more information, please refer to the Canal’s website: http://www.pancanal.com or follow us on Twitter @thepanamacanal.