With the ongoing drought conditions in the Panama Canal opposing restrictions on the number of daily ship transits, new challenges arise for shipowners who seek to ensure a slot and continue their operations as planned. While “jumping the queue” costs are breaking new records in auctions, the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) is seemingly extending the restrictions until the end of the year.
Assuming that the drought in the Panama Canal is largely impacted by the El Nino event, and with El Nino forecasted to get more intense in the coming months, the situation is likely to bring up even more challenges for shipping, increasing the need for accurate data in voyage planning and execution.
According to media reports, ACP has predicted that vessel transits through the canal for the upcoming fiscal year will be reduced by at least 1,500 due to the ongoing drought conditions. As a response, the ACP has applied restrictions on daily vessel transits, including an upper limit of 32 transits per day and a draught limit of 13.41 meters in the neopanamax locks.
Is this situation going back to normal anytime soon? According to the StormGeo Meteorologists Team in the US:
The ongoing severe drought in Panama is likely due to the developing El Nino event, which normally causes well below normal rainfall across Central America. Since the El Nino event is forecast to strengthen over the next few months, we would expect the ongoing-drier-than-normal conditions to continue through the rest of the year. Looking at some of the longer-range models, most agree in below-normal rainfall across Panama through December.
Consequently, with restrictions possibly staying in effect for at least four extra months, the challenges for ship owners and vessel operators are getting bigger day by day. Those who choose to skip the Canal transit and use alternative routes are facing longer voyages and fuel costs. For those who spend significant amounts of money to purchase a transit license, arrival at their Canal slot on time is vital to avoid extra fees or even worse, lost slots. Both situations are challenging, and when in ‘troubled waters’, being proactive and flexible is always a lifesaver.
How voyage optimization reduces the risks of missing the RTA
When skipping the Canal is not an option and a passage license has been successfully issued, arriving just in time for the purchased slot is necessary to avoid feeds and delays. However, sailing too fast or too slow to meet the RTA is not effective. Taking into account route safety, fuel consumption, and emissions control is mandatory to ensure maximum voyage efficiency while arriving on time for your passage. Having the RTA in mind, vessel operators can use voyage optimization to identify the optimal route and parameters that will ensure safety and compliance while reducing fuel costs and emissions.
1. Accurate voyage planning
A voyage plan consists of a mix of constant values, like the Time Charter Equivalent (TCE) terms, speed limits, safety requirements, regulation restrictions, and the RTA. Combining these with weather and oceanographic data, which are forecasted values, you can easily assess vessel performance and fuel consumption costs, to identify the most efficient route parameters.
StormGeo provides the most accurate weather and oceanographic data that, combined with the above constants, helps you choose the most optimal route to ensure that your vessel will arrive on time for your slot to pass the Panama Canal.
2. Dynamic routing
While weather forecasts can give you an estimate of voyage conditions and associated risks, forecasts always change. Except for the weather, other factors can also influence voyage execution and increase the risk of missing your RTA, like delays in bunker operations or crewing. For that reason, flexibility is key to adjusting voyage parameters while keeping ETA aligned with the RTA.
StormGeo’s advanced machine learning and AI algorithms are constantly recalculating the optimal route based on the above factors that can influence voyage execution. In addition, a team of voyage optimization experts is monitoring the performance of your voyage to identify improvements and alert you to potential risks.
3. Optimal Fuel Consumption
As previously mentioned, sailing at maximum speed to arrive on time at your passage slot is inefficient in many aspects, including fuel consumption and safety. To optimize fuel consumption, a vessel must sail in constant power, where M/E power is kept constant and speed varies according to external factors, like weather. A constant power strategy is achieved by varying the M/E Revolutions Per Minute (RPM) when needed, enabling fuel-efficient voyages.
StormGeo enables you to arrive on time for your passage slot with the least fuel consumption by combining the RTA with our weather intelligence to provide you with daily recommendations on the optimal RPM, to achieve your constant power strategy.
As forecasts about the Panama Canal suggest that water levels will remain at a historic low, and restrictions extending to the coming months, challenges for shipping companies intending to use the Canal are here to stay. With slot fees breaking new records at auction, arriving on time for your slot while keeping fuel consumption low is critical to avoiding extra fees or long wait times. StormGeo’s voyage optimization solution gives you all the tools you need to plan and execute the safest, most cost-effective, regulations-compliant voyage, for a smooth transit through the Canal during this challenging time.