Panama Canal traffic halted due to heavy rain
Panama City, December 9, 2010
Traffic in the Panama Canal was halted on Wednesday due to heavy rain, the first time the waterway has been closed in more than 20 years.
At least five ships were visible idling in the canal, a major shipping route that connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, from Miraflores Locks, on the Pacific side of the waterway, about 6 hours after the suspension.
"We are taking steps to normalize traffic operations in the coming hours," canal authority vice president Manuel Benitez said in a statement. If the shutdown lasts less than a day it should have a minimal impact on trade.
Between 13,000 and 14,000 ships pass through the canal every year -- about 36 per day -- representing roughly 5 percent of world trade, according to the canal authority.
A spokesman at the canal authority office told Reuters the the shutdown, the canal's first since the 1989 US invasion, was a precaution.
Recent heavy rains have caused havoc in nearby Venezuela and Colombia and the authority said rainfall had pushed surrounding rivers and reservoirs to historically high levels, which could affect ships in transit.
Ships can take weeks to cross through the 50-mile (80-km) canal, which operates as a series of interconnected locks that raise and lower water levels to move massive barges. – Reuters