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Waiting Times at Panama Canal Worsen

By James Greenwald last modified Apr 16, 2008 01:02 PM

Published: 2008-04-16 13:02:16
Topics: Cruising Information
Countries: Panama

"Usual numbers at this busy time of year would be about 15 to 20 per day going through. The backlog for ships is even worse, even though they do get priority over yachts. A Panama Canal Pilot told a Noonsite source that there are no particular functional problems on the canal just an unexpected large number of ships wanting to use the canal. The result undoubtedly is that to accommodate the ships the yachts are being restricted."

In reality, while there is no technical reason for the backlog, the Canal does have labour problems.

Below is my brief report on the situation contained in my recent update to a List of friends:

"There are many yachts awaiting transit, now approaching a six week delay. Several have gone off on jaunts to the San Blas Islands or the Bocas to the north. Others have cancelled cruising plans and left their yacht in storage flying home in disgust. We have stayed at the marina hoping vainly for an earlier transit date. The slowdown is reportedly based on the Canal Pilots wanting about $400K annually vice the current $250K. There has been no pay rise for workers despite a massive income increase for the canal through added charges for containers. Normally 45 ships per day transit but now this is reduced to about 35. There is no interest in speeding up yacht traffic so only three yachts transit each way every other day. Massive extra income is being derived locally from the growing fleet of yachts in waiting. I doubt though if crews of stalled freighters spend much as they anchor outside the breakwater which is a long water taxi ride to local amenities."

Your report is accurate about the increasing wait time to two months.

My comments are based upon talks with several yacht agents and facilitators. Incidentally, Canal scheduling staff are unfailingly polite and more than patient as cruisers call often daily to see if there has been any advancement of transit dates due to cancellations. Management at the highest level is the real issue and it all centres on failure to provide workers a larger piece of the action. If a strike were permitted by the Panama Canal Charter, the facility would be shut down long ago.

From Hugh Bacon, ARGONAUTA I

I can confirm that the wait to transit the canal from the Atlantic to Pacific side remains very long. I arrived in Colon on March 17 and was given a transit date on April 22nd. This was despite arranging an agent, who was polite and helpful but was unable to move the transit date up. The area, especially the PCYC, is rife with rumors as to why this should be. Most suggest that the Canal pilots are on a "work slow" in order to gain more money but I cannot confirm the veracity of this statement. All I know is that I am held up in Colon which is not the greatest cruising location on the planet. Sincerely, Michael Last

Update on delays:

The real reason for the backlog of transits is because the Canal Pilots, who are forbidden by law to strike, have been trying unsuccessfully for two years to get salary increases or cost of living upgrades, and so are "working to rule".

Don Allen