How the Panama Canal is preparing for a cleaner future

Press Release: As the maritime industry prepares to implement the IMO 2020 global Sulphur limit on January 1, 2020, the Panama Canal has made great strides in ensuring effective enforcement through workforce training, ongoing stakeholder consultation and communication, and awareness-building. The Trident Alliance, a group of shipping companies in favor of full and effective enforcement, commends the waterway’s proactive approach to enforcement, providing clear guidance on fuel requirements and implementing the ‘Carriage ban on non-compliant fuels’ that enters into force on March 1, 2020.

Here’s a summary of the Canal’s efforts in preparation to IMO 2020:

  • Effective Enforcement: The upcoming change to the global Sulphur cap prompted numerous inquiries to the Panama Canal regarding the effective enforcement of the regulation and the types of fuels that will be permitted while in Canal waters. Throughout the process, the Canal has stood by its commitment, publicly outlining its plans to enforce not only the Sulphur limits, but also the heavy fuel carriage ban that will enter in force on March 1, 2020, by requesting the type of fuel on board as part of the documentation required before transit. Although it has recognized that the regulations have caused disruptions across the industry, the waterway has stood by their necessary implementation.
  • Scrubber Policy: For more than 20 years, the Panama Canal has prohibited discharging any type of solid or liquid wastes into its waters. These measures have protected the integrity of the Miraflores and Gatun Lakes for decades, and have since been updated, per Notice to Shipping N-1-2019, to prohibit discarding sludge, bleed off waters, and wash waters from the operation of scrubbers in Panama Canal waters, and went into effect a year ahead of the new IMO regulations on January 1, 2019. The Panama Canal enforces this prohibition by examining aspects related to scrubbers and their operation. Prior to arriving in Canal waters, ships must provide information on type of scrubber, capacities of holding tanks, and copies of their supplement to the International Air Pollution Prevention (IAPP) certificate. Inspections on site include review of logbooks and operational status of the scrubber.
  • Fuel Requirements: Included in the Advisory to Shipping A-39-2019, the Canal has also detailed the type of fuels that will be permitted while in Panama Canal waters. Starting January 1, 2020, all vessels transiting the waterway will be required to switch from residual fuel to marine distillate fuel prior to their arrival to Panama Canal waters. The fuel changeover should be recorded in the vessel’s Engine Room Logbook and/or the Fuel Oil Changeover Record Book. Vessels may supplement or replace marine distillate fuels with LNG fuel, biofuels, closed loop scrubbers and ultra-low Sulphur fuel oil (ULSFO) and very-low Sulphur fuel oil (VLSFO) with a viscosity not exceeding 70 centistokes @ 50 °C. For additional information on fuel requirements for the Canal, please contact
  • Technology: The Canal has also leveraged technology to streamline inter-agency coordination and ensure effective enforcement of IMO 2020 guidelines. In November 2019, the Panama Canal and the Panama Maritime Authority upgraded their Panama Maritime Single Window Systems (VUMPA) to optimize procedures for vessels travelling through the Canal and track carbon dioxide emissions more efficiently. It is estimated that since 2017, VUMPA has reduced the need for more than 300,000 paper forms and documents, improving the efficiency and carbon footprint of the shipping process. These upgrades will continue to help reduce costs, optimize itineraries and improve transparency and productivity after 2020, while providing substantial time savings to maritime customers taking advantage of Panama’s logistics offerings.
  • Workforce Education: A critical component in effective implementation, the Canal has facilitated various training opportunities to ensure key personnel overseeing transit operations are well-versed on IMO 2020 compliance issues, including new technologies and alternative fuels. Most recently, the Canal hosted a multi-agency workshop to strengthen Panama’s maritime environmental competencies, while offering the tools to ensure a comprehensive and timely compliance of the new fuel guidelines.
  • Global Environmental Leadership: The Canal also continues to actively participate in national and international meetings and forums as an advocate of IMO 2020, promoting its effective implementation. This year, it became the first Latin American member of the Global Industry Alliance, signed an agreement with UN Environment and actively participated in key industry meetings, such as the Global Maritime Forum and the IMO. Its work at home has also grown stronger through the Green Connection Environmental Recognition Program, which tracks customer emissions and recognizes those who demonstrate excellent environmental stewardship with priority slots, a practice only taking place at the Canal.

This is just the beginning of a broader industry transition to better air quality future. Its success will be critical in setting the foundation for more ambitious emissions reduction targets, as outlined by the IMO. 

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