Impact of Panama Canal restrictions on fruit imports analyzed

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Impact of Panama Canal restrictions on fruit imports analyzed

A Panama Canal water shortage is not expected to slow Pacific Coast Latin American fruit exports to Philadelphia.

A drought situation in Panama has lowered the canal’s water level. This impacts the transit of very deep large ships. But two leaders of the Delaware River seaport don’t expect their trade to be impacted by this.  

Sean Mahoney director of marketing, PhilaPort, Philadelphia, on Sept. 5 responded to a email query: “We do not foresee an impact on volumes of fruit. According to various sources, the number of daily transits has been reduced from 36 to 32. Liner operators reserve their transits ahead of time and have a priority to pass the many bulkers and tankers waiting in the anchorages at both sides of the waterway.”

Leo Holt, president of Holt Logistics Corp., based in Gloucester City, NJ, also responds in writing to FreshFruitPortal: “I would contextualize and frame the issues with the canal based on the vessels that call the Delaware River. The major impact is on vessels that are sailing at deep drafts. That leaves out the conventional reefer segment entirely as these are shallow draft vessels.” Holt adds that he is not an expert in the canal’s queuing requirements, “but it stands to reason” that conventional reefers would be ahead in line.

Holt continues: “Second is that the primary secondary and tertiary carriers all use either a wheeling hub(s) and spoke(s) approach or use tonnage that is also shallower draft than the main line trans-Pacific bottoms.”

Philadelphia development

Among other seaport interests, Holt Logistics owns and operates Gloucester City’s vast Gloucester Marine Terminal, and also leases and manages the sophisticated, container-service Packer Avenue Marine Terminal along Philadelphia’s waterfront. Packer Avenue is owned by PhilaPort. 

Mahoney and Holt both note they’re jointly working on a massive capabilities expansion. This includes breaking ground this year on a new 200,000-square-foot cold storage warehouse, which will be served by hundreds of new reefer plugs.

South American Fruit Outlook

“Chile has plenty of water and snow pack this year,” Holt notes. “Peru continues their emergence into the markets. Colombia is promising with new varietals and has good logistics on both sides of the canal.”

Holt adds, “Notwithstanding the production headwinds that Chile experienced last year we expect a better season. So overall we are sanguine (positive) about the 2023/2024 seasons, stand ready to assist shippers and receivers and will, as always, take the lumps necessary to ensure a smooth supply chain.”

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