The Panama Canal authorities have decided to impose draft restrictions for all vessels from mid-April to ensure safe operation. The reason is that El Nino has caused water levels to fall well below the average for this time of the year.
It would be temporary and preventive, and the draft restrictions were planned due to drought that has left water levels falling in lakes that form part of the waterway between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
“When this occurs, El Niño changes the pattern of rainfall in many regions of the planet,” the advisory said. “In this case, it has triggered a drought in the Canal Watershed, causing the water levels of Gatun and Alhajuela Lakes to fall substantially below their average for this time of year.”
Highlights of the Draft:
- Vessels loaded to drafts over 11.89 meters prior to, or on March 21, will have their draft restriction waived for transit, subject to safety considerations.
- Vessels loaded after March 21 shall comply with the new draft limitation.
- Vessels seeking to cross the waterway must comply with a maximum draught of 39 ft (11.89m) beginning on 18 April.
- Draft restrictions will be implemented in 15-centimeter (six-inch) decrements at a time, with each restriction announced at least four weeks in advance.
The new draft restrictions will impact the opening plans of the new Panama Canal’s expanded locks for commercial traffic in the third quarter, if the situation doesn’t improve. With the expanded waterway and locks, the canal will be able to handle ships that can carry up to 13,000 twenty-foot-equivalent units, or more than two-and-a-half times the capacity of the current Panamax vessels.