The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) has issued a warning of probable draft restrictions for the transiting vessels due to the dramatic effects of the weather phenomenon “El Nino”.
El Nino refers to the ocean-atmosphere complex weather phenomenon consisting of a cycle of warm and cold temperatures patterns resulting from variations in ocean temperatures in the Equatorial Pacific. In the Panama Canal, this phenomenon is characterized by a reduction in rainfall in the Canal watershed, which causes a fall in the water levels below the average of Gatun and Madden lakes.
The ACP has undertaken the monitoring of the water levels of Gatun and Madden lakes on a regular basis. This exercise is done due to the importance linked with these resources for transit operations. They are also taking other measures for water conservation so as to reduce the possibility of imposing draft restrictions soon as a result of this phenomenon.
Earlier in the year 1998, El Nino has caused severe reductions of rainfalls in Panama. Those circumstances forced the canal authorities to issue draft restrictions.
With respect to the implementation of draft restrictions, the shipping community will be informed by the ACP. The announcement will give sufficient time to vessels being loaded to comply with the limitation. The draft restrictions will be imposed in 15-centimetre (six-inch) decrements at a time with at least five weeks notice, if necessary.
With the implementation of draft restrictions, vessels loaded before the time of promulgation would be waived for transit, subjected to overriding safety considerations. The ships loaded on or after the date of enactment of a new draft restriction need to comply with that restriction. They are required to trim or off-load cargo subjected to the level of Gatun Lake at the time of arrival.
The ACP has promised that canal officials will try their level best to avoid those restrictions. They assured that this information is for the planning purposes only, and the final actions will be upon actual lake level data.