Panama Canal is taking a small step to ease the epic traffic jam that has snarled global shipping for months


The Panama Canal, which has been strained by drought for months, will increase the number of ships it accepts each day starting in January, thanks to better-than-expected November rains. 

As many as 24 vessels will be permitted to pass through the system daily, up from 22 currently, the canal authority said in a statement Friday. 

A powerful El Nino has reduced rainfall in the region, sapping the canal’s water levels. The situation has forced shippers to decide whether to wait in line for days or weeks, pay millions of dollars to jump ahead in the queue, or sail an entire continent out of the way around the southern tips of Africa and South America.

Rainfall in the canal region dropped to a record low in October, prompting authorities to restrict traffic on the system for the first time. Levels on Lake Gatun, which forms a key stretch of the canal and provides fresh water for its locks, remain below expected levels.

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