Christmas supplies could be delayed in reaching the UK in time for Christmas as the Panama Canal shipping route suffers its worst ever drought.
Huge container ships attempting to cross the channel – which is one of the world’s most important trade routes – are experiencing delays of up to four weeks as water levels continue to fall.
A naturally occurring El Nino climate pattern associated with warmer-than-usual water in the central and eastern tropical Pacific Ocean is contributing to Panama’s drought.
The congestion in the canal that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans could have a wider impact across the global supply chain – as experts warn even Christmas could be affected in the UK.
There could also be a rise in the cost of food and energy prices because grains and fuels are among the major supplies transported through the canal.
Low water levels outside the Miraflores locks of the Panama Canal on November 3 – as Panama faces a severe drought
The Panama Canal Authority is continuing to restrict the number of vessels that pass through the Panama Canal locks as drought has caused water levels at Gatun Lake to drop. Pictured: A container ship passes through the Miraflores Locks
Before the vital shipping route experienced delays, some 38 ships passed through each day.
But with limited water to maintain the freshwater lock system, only 24 ships have been able to cross through each day since November 7, The Mirror reports.
It’s understood that the number will plummet to 18 a day from February because of the huge drought.
Many slots are open to book at a fixed price well in advance but a small number are held back for last-minute operations which are sold to the highest bidder.
Companies have the option to pay millions of dollars to jump ahead in the queue if a ship with a booked reservation leaves.
Some ships are even being forced to take huge detours, some even up to a month, through the Suez Canal in Egypt.
The drought, which comes with temperatures already at a 1.2C rise, is being discussed at Cop28, with delegates hoping to agree to keep global warming at a 1.5C limit.
Steven Paton, director of the Physical Monitoring Program at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in Panama, said: ‘This is now our third extreme water deficit in the past 25 years. That is a huge red flag.’
He said water levels are the lowest seen at this time of year in 98 years of data.
Some ships are even being forced to take huge detours, some even up to a month, through the Suez Canal in Egypt. Pictured: The Miraflores locks of the Panama Canal
The delays for shipping containers could make goods, including iPhones, sent from the US west coast to Britain harder to get hold of.
David Jinks, head of consumer research at ParcelHero, said: ‘The result could be shortages of goods and increased prices.
‘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.’
In August, more than 200 ships were stuck on both sides of the canal after the number of crossings was capped by authorities amid the drought.
The large vessels, which were likely carrying millions of dollars worth of goods, were trapped with some waiting for weeks to cross.
The effects have led the canal to estimate a reduction in revenues of up to $200 million by 2024.