Panama Canal crisis threatens to disrupt Christmas

Shipping containers (Steve Parsons/PA) (PA Archive)
Shipping containers (Steve Parsons/PA) (PA Archive)

A drought 5,000 miles from home threatens to disrupt Christmas for millions of Brits, as shipping experts warned a decision to slash the number of boats allowed through the Panama Canal could lead to delays or shortages of popular tech products.

Panama’s worst drought in 70 years has led to low water levels in the channel that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, making it more difficult for large container ships to pass through.

As a result, the Panama Canal Authority, an agent of the Central American country’s government, has is set to cut the number of daily sailings permitted by almost 40% to just 22 from Friday.

That’s likely to make goods sent from the US west coast to the UK, especially tech products such as Apple’s latest iPhone, more expensive or harder to obtain.

David Jinks, head of consumer research at ParcelHero, said: “‘How might the Panama crisis affect Christmas here in the UK? 40% of container traffic to the US uses the canal.

“The result could be shortages of goods and increased prices as retailers fight over available stocks.

“There will be a significant impact on a range of products typically carried on the canal in containers, including TVs, mobile phones, exercise bikes, PCs, Christmas sweaters and tree lights.”

With grains and fuels also among the major products moved through the canal, the drought may affect food and energy costs as well.

Around 6% of global maritime goods movement is through the Panama Canal. While shipping firms can send goods via alternative routes, sending them west instead of east, these usually add around 10-15 days to shipping times.