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Number of LNG tankers passing through Panama Canal in 2018 up 77% on year: canal authority

Houston — The number of LNG tankers through the expanded Panama Canal in 2018 increased 77% year on year, according to the Panama Canal Authority.

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Looking at the volume of LNG carriers transiting the canal so far in 2019, this year's total could match 2018's number or increase this year if good weather conditions permit. As of March, 194 LNG tankers passed through the canal, the canal authority has reported. This represents 67% of the last year's total of 290. In 2017, the total was 163, while it was only 17 in 2016.

Since its expansion in June 2016, of the 6,000 Neopanamax ships that have transited to date more than 50% have been container ships, 26% have been LPG carriers and LNG carriers have been 11%. Dry and liquid bulk carriers, car carriers and cruise ships have made up the remaining transits.

According to the PCA, more than 90% of the LNG world's fleet can now transit the Panama Canal and this allows LNG producers in the Atlantic Basin, mainly those on the US Gulf Coast, to send cargoes to Asia, where 70% of the global demand is found.

The PCA last year doubled to two its guaranteed daily slots for LNG tankers. It also lifted some daylight restrictions for the ships.

However, due to a severe drought caused by an El Nino,thePCA has reduced the maximum authorized draft for vessels transiting the Neopanamax locks for the fifth time this year. The drought has reduced water levels in two of the canal's largest tributary lakes. The draft restrictions are likely to reduce canal traffic significantly, which can lead to finding other routes or the option to pass through the canal with less cargo, making such exports less competitive. The latest maximum authorized draft is 13.41 meters (44 feet), effective April 30.

-- Ingrid Furtado, ingrid.furtado@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Richard Rubin, newsdesk@spglobal.com