The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) has announced it will increase in the maximum allowable draft for vessels using the new Neopanamaz locks after recent rainfall brought the Gatun and Alajuela Lakes to their operating limits.
Effective immediately, the maximum allowable draft for vessels transiting the Neopanamax locks will be increased to 14.33 m (47.0 feet) Tropical Fresh Water (TFW), the ACP said Monday.
The raising of the maximum allowable draft gets the Panama Canal closer to 15.2 meters originally planned for the new Neopanamax locks. The locks, the key component of the Expanded Panama Canal, first opened in June 2016 with the maximum draft set at a shallow 12.8 meters (42 feet) Tropical Fresh Water. The opening came amid one of the worst droughts on record in the Panama Canal watershed, with historically-low water levels threatening the Canal’s big ship vision. The draught was largely attributed to the strong El Niño, which subsided in the second half of the year and later transitioned into a strong La Niña during the 2016-2017 winter season – bringing rain with it.
In raising the draft limits on Monday, the Panama Canal Authority said that with the expected arrival of the dry season in the next few weeks, it will continue to monitor and manage the water levels of the Gatun and Alajuela Lakes and make updates as necessary.
As part of its strategy to conserve water, the ACP has been implementing a series conservation measures over the last several months, including the stoppage of electricity generation at Gatun hydroelectric plant, the suspension of hydraulic assist procedures at the Panamax locks for deep-draft vessels, and maximization of tandem lockages – all of which add to the use of the water-saving basins of the Neopanamax Locks.