El Niño Drought to Impact Shipping Through Panama Canal

A cargo ship is seen on the Panama Canal in Panama City August 10, 2015. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso
A cargo ship is seen on the Panama Canal in Panama City August 10, 2015. REUTERS/Carlos Jasso

The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) is once again scheduled draft restrictions for all ships passing through Canal due to a continued drought in the region related to this season’s strong El Niño.  

The ACP says these temporary and preventive measures are due to low water levels in the Gatun and Alhajuela Lakes caused by drought in the Canal Watershed.

The draft restrictions, announced Monday in an Advisory to Shipping, set the maximum draft at 11.89 meters (39.0 feet) Tropical Fresh Water (TFW), effective April 18, 2016. The maximum authorized transit draft is defined as the deepest point of TFW immersion for each specific vessel in Gatun Lake.

The ACP says the new measures are being taken to ensure the continuous and safe operation of the Panama Canal during a period where water levels of Gatun and Alhajuela Lakes have fallen substantially below their average for this time of year.

Vessels loaded to drafts over 11.89 meters (39.0 feet) prior to or on March 21, will have their draft restriction waived for transit, subject to safety considerations, while vessels loaded after March 21 shall comply with the new draft limitation, the ACP says. 

In August, the ACP announced similar draft restrictions that were scheduled to become effective September 8, but rain in the Canal Watershed prevented the restrictions from ever entering into force. 

The ACP was faced with a similar situation during the the strong 199-1998 El Niño, which required preventative adjustments of operations.