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Several freighters, assisted by tugboats, are entering the Panama Canal at Gatun Locks on the Atlantic side.

Photo: Matt Ragen/Shutterstock

Panama Canal Increases Booking Slots Amid Expected Rainfall

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April 16, 2024

The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) has announced an increase in booking slots for its Panamax locks starting mid-May, in response to current and predicted water levels in Gatun Lake.

Following a severe drought last year, the Panama Canal Authority has had to limit the waterway’s capacity by reducing both the number of daily ship transits and their maximum draft.

With the dry season coming to an end, the ACP has been gradually easing restrictions and increasing the number of daily transits from 24 to 27, as of March 25.

Under the new schedule, a total of 24 ships are now scheduled to cross daily from May 7 to May 15 due to scheduled maintenance. From May 16, this number will further increase to 31 per day in both the Panamax (original) locks and Neopanamax (new) locks. Additionally, an extra slot will open in the Neopanamax locks from June 1, with crossings expected to remain at 32 per day until further notice.

The ACP also plans to increase the maximum authorized draft for vessels transiting the Neopanamax locks to 45 feet from June 15, an improvement from the current 44 feet.

The decision comes amid optimism that rainfall will begin by late April and continue for several months due to the weakening El Nino and the shift to La Nina this summer.

Assuming the forecasts hold, the ACP aims to gradually lift all transit restrictions and fully normalize operations by 2025, allowing 36 daily transits and a maximum draft of 50 feet.

The ACP has been addressing these water issues by developing a robust water management system and exploring solutions outside the Panama Canal Watershed. A proposal has been presented to the Panamanian government to redefine the Canal Watershed and remove restrictions on the construction of a new reservoir. Meanwhile, the ACP is implementing water-saving measures and developing short-term strategies to optimize water use.

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