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Neopanamax locks increase draft, permits fully laden Suezmaxes

Increase font size  Decrease font size Date:2020-10-05   Views:41
An increase in the maximum allowable draft at the Neopanamax locks of the Panama Canal to 50 ft, effective Sept. 24, gave fully laden Suezmaxes an alternative route when voyaging through the Americas; however fog and increased traffic have lengthened waiting times for transit slots.

The Panama Canal Authority announced Sept. 23 the maximum draft increase to 50 feet, or 15.24 meters, from 49 feet, or 14.63 meters. The increase opened the possibility for Suezmax tankers, when fully-laden with 43 API crude, such as Permian Basin-sourced West Texas Intermediate, to transit the canal with a full 1 million-barrel cargo of that grade.
Inquiry for the 130,000 mt US Gulf Coast-Singapore Suezmax run has been diminished in September, with global crude demand low. The lack of activity out of the USGC has kept freight rangebound or slightly weak in the second half of September. The dirty 130,000 mt USGC-Singapore route was assessed Sept. 25 at lump sum $2.5 million, unchanged day on day.

Despite the lack of Suezmax inquiry out of the USGC and Caribbean regions in the last decade of September, dirty tanker sources in the Americas reported an increase in interest for Suezmaxes voyaging from Brazil to China and Asia in late September. The shortest voyage for tankers steaming at 13 knots from Brazil to China is via the Cape of Good Hope, which takes almost 37 days. Comparatively, through the Panama Canal the voyage would take 42 days, not counting wait times for transit slots.

Clean tankers and smaller dirty tankers are unaffected by the draft increase, as clean Medium Range, Long Range 1 and Long Range 2 tankers can all transit at the 50-foot draft. Aframaxes, which have a maximum draft of 14.9 meters if fully laden, are able to transit the Neopanamax locks at the 15.24 meter restriction.

Fog, transit surge stretches wait times
Clean tanker owners positioned in the Americas have reported an increase in the typical waiting time between arrival at the canal from the USGC and the scheduled transit time. Shipowners said Medium Range tankers and other ships classified in the "super" category by the canal authority, or ACP, currently have a 10-day wait depending on the time of scheduling, compared to between six to eight days reported in August.

A spokeswoman for the ACP said that the current wait time for non-booked vessels stood around six days, and that during September only two super tankers had longer waiting times of up to 8.7 days.

"In the past 24 days, Panama has experienced increased fog, which has impacted 46 transits. This has been compounded by a surge in Panama Plus transit arrivals, further contributing to the delays," the spokeswoman said.

The ACP site for pre-booking transit slots showed either zero or one transit slots available at the Neopanamax locks through October 31. For regular transit through the Panamax locks, super slots were completely booked through Oct. 10, and only 21 slots were available in the first half of October. Daily transits through the Panamax locks typically number between 32-34 ships, according to shipping sources.

Container ships, dry bulk
The draft increase clears the largest of the Neopanamax container ship class to steam through the locks with up to 14,500 twenty-foot equivalent containers, which typically draws a draft of 49.9 feet. All other container ships steaming on the North Asia to US East Coast route can transit the Panama Canal at the 50 foot draft.

For dry bulk shipping, fully-laden Neopanamax ships are able to transit the canal at the current 50-foot draft, having a maximum draft of 49 feet, however, Capesize ships, with typical maximum drafts of 66 feet, will not be able to transit if fully laden.

Handysize, Supramax, Ultramax and Panamax dry bulk carriers, with maximum drafts of 10 meters, 11 meters and 12 meters, respectively, will be able to pass through the restricted 15.24 meters of maximum draft.
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