New Draft Restrictions Set for Panama Canal
SAN JUAN – The Panama Canal Authority (PCA) has issued an advisory to the shipping industry setting new draft restrictions for ships using the east-west waterway because of lower water levels caused by the El Niño weather phenomenon in the region.
The PCA said the new requisite was assumed to ensure the continuous and safe operation of the canal and that it is a temporary measure. The new restrictions are in response to the changes in the region’s rainfall patterns associated to El Niño, which elevates water temperatures in Pacific Ocean.
“When this occurs, El Niño changes the pattern of rainfall in many regions of the planet. In this case, it has triggered a drought in the Canal Watershed, causing the levels of Gatún and Alajuela lakes to fall substantially below their average for this time of year,” the PCA advisory reads.
The new maximum draft is set at 11.98 meters (39 feet) in tropical freshwater (TFW), and goes in effect April 18. The new maximum transit draft was defined as the deepest point of TFW immersion for each specific vessel going into Gatún Lake. However, vessels loaded before or on March 21 to drafts exceeding the 11.89-meter mark will have their draft restriction waived, subject to safety evaluations.
The PCA estimates the waterway’s new and expanded locks will be open to commercial traffic during the year’s third quarter. The PCA could not anticipate if the draft limit would still be in place when the locks are officially inaugurated.