US – Maersk, a global leader in shipping and logistics, is undertaking significant modifications to its Oceania-Americas service due to persistent climate and water challenges impacting the Panama Canal.

In an effort to ensure uninterrupted services, Maersk has opted to divide its Oceania-Americas service into two segments, avoiding the Panama Canal in favor of a land bridge solution.

Adapting to climate challenges

Facing ongoing climate and water-related issues at the Panama Canal, Maersk has proactively responded by restructuring its OC1 service, which operates between Oceania and the Americas.

The decision to cease transiting the Panama Canal and adopt a land bridge approach comes considering the Panama Canal Authority’s (ACP) necessity to curtail the number and weight of vessels navigating the canal.

“The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) has had to reduce the number and weight of vessels that can pass through the canal due to current and projected water levels in Gatun Lake,” explained Maersk.

“We continue to work closely with the ACP, adjusting our operations to fit these changes and making service alterations to minimize customer impact.”

Impact on operations and customer communication

Despite the ACP’s efforts to increase transit slots to 24 daily in January, a shift from the initially proposed reduction to 18 daily in February, the daily transits remain below the usual 36.

Draught restrictions further impede cargo capacity, with potential for additional constraints during Panama’s dry season from late December to April.

To navigate these challenges, Maersk has taken the bold step of rerouting vessels away from the Panama Canal.

Instead, a “land bridge” utilizing rail infrastructure will transport cargo across Panama’s 80 km width. This strategic move creates two distinct loops—one on the Pacific side and the other on the Atlantic side.

Operational details and future plans

The Pacific loop, turning at Balboa, Panama, will handle cargo destined for Latin America and North America, while picking up cargo for Australia and New Zealand. Simultaneously, the Atlantic loop will turn at Manzanillo, Panama, following a similar process.

In a commitment to maintaining comprehensive coverage, Maersk will continue operating the PANZ service from the US West Coast to Oceania.

Additionally, connections between Gulf ports and the OC1 service will be preserved. Maersk assures stakeholders that it remains closely engaged with the Panama Canal Authority, providing timely updates to keep customers informed.

Christopher Johnson, a maritime analyst, acknowledges the strategic approach: “Maersk’s decision to utilize a land bridge demonstrates their commitment to operational resilience and customer satisfaction in the face of dynamic challenges posed by the Panama Canal.”

As Maersk charts this course adjustment, the industry watches with keen interest, recognizing the necessity for adaptable strategies to navigate the evolving complexities of global shipping routes.

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