The cost of jumping the queue at the Panama Canal topped almost $4 million recently, which is the price that one shipowner paid at auction to get to the front of the line.

The drought-hit waterway has seen congestion worsen over recent weeks, with queues reaching over 100 vessels and waiting times exceeding 15 days.

Normally, around 37-38 vessels pass through the crossing point every day, but that number was reduced to around 30-32 in June due to severe drought conditions. To make matters worse, the number was cut to 22 in November, with fears that it will be cut to 18 by February.

The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) have resorted to holding auctions, where winners are allowed to jump ahead of the queues by paying extortionate fees on top of the usual toll fee.

The extreme record breaking conditions have hampered operations since January to April’s lack of rainfall brought about the lowest water levels in decades. The situation then started to deteriorate further as a delayed rainy season brought no respite, and last month was the driest October since records began 73 years ago.

Delays are mostly impacting North and South American West Coast services to and from Europe, and Asian services to and from the US East Coast.

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