Transits via the Panama Canal fell by 4.3% in March compared to the previous month driven by a decline in dry bulk shipping, according to data published by the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) reported by Freight Waves.

However, the pace of decline had slowed and with more rainfall than expected in November the ACP had been able to increase reservation slots in January, the 19 January report said.

December transits totalled 746, including transits through both the older Panamax locks and the larger Neopanamax locks that opened in 2016.

Compared to November, December transits fell 4.7%, which was a much lower rate of decline than in November when transits dropped 21.9% compared to the previous month.

US soyabean exports to Asia peaked in the fourth quarter of last year, with bulk agriculture cargoes volumes boosted by continued exports of corn and wheat shipped on Panamax-sized or smaller vessels due to terminal restrictions in both the US Gulf and Asia.

In the fourth quarter, Panamax vessels loaded with US farm exports shifted from using the Panama Canal to the Suez Canal route and continued to do so despite Houthi attacks in the Red Sea, the report said.

However, diversions via the Cape of Good Hope were increasing following attacks on two US-owned bulk vessels in the week of the report.

Emergency restrictions on transit reservations introduced by the ACP in November to conserve water were eased at the beginning of January due to improved water levels, Freight Waves wrote.

Scheduled to drop from 22 transits/day in December to 20/day in January and 18/day in February (13 Panamax, five Neopanamax), the ACP had increased daily transit slots to 24/day (17 Panamax, seven Neopanamax) from January.

This could lead to an improvement in transit numbers in January compared to December although daily reservations remained 33% below the pre-drought average of 36 transits/day, the report said.