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Drought hit Panama Canal further restricts maximum ship depth

A bulk carrier transits the Cocoli Locks at the Panama Canal, on the outskirts of Panama City, Panama April 19, 2023. REUTERS/Aris Martinez/File Photo

Severe Drought Forces Panama Canal to Restrict Number of Daily Vessel Transits

Mike Schuler
Total Views: 5812
July 25, 2023

The Panama Canal Authority has announced plans to reduce daily vessel transits to help conserve water due to an ongoing drought.

The new restrictions come as the ACP has already implemented a series of draft restrictions for the critical waterway, limiting the amount of cargo ships can carry.

The Panama Canal Authority said it was implementing the measures to reduce the possibility of additional draft restrictions due to extended dry conditions in the Panama Canal watershed, despite water saving measures and the arrival of the rainy season. This year’s El Niño has resulted in drier than normal conditions in Panama, intensifying the drought and leading to lower water levels in Gatun Lake.

Starting from July 30, 2023, the daily transit capacity of the Panama Canal will be adjusted to an average of 32 ocean-foing vessels per day, with 10 vessels in the Neopanamax locks and 22 vessels in the Panamax locks. The ACP warns capacity may be further adjusted based on factors such as Gatun Lake level, weather forecasts, and vessel mix.

The maximum sustainable capacity of the Panama Canal, including both the Panamax and expanded Neopanamax locks, is approximately 38-40 vessels per day, but generally around 34-38 vessels transit each month. However, the two most recent months, May and June, saw an average of only 32.58 and 32.13 transits per day, respectively.

Although factors like maintenance can impact the daily capacity of Panama Canal’s locks, the transit limit is the first climate-related limit since the opening of the expanded Panama Canal’s Neopanamax locks in 2016. The ACP’s announcement added that it reserves the right to implement additional measures and procedures in the future to ensure the safe and efficient operation of the waterway.

The ACP also notes that a decrease in daily transits of the Panama Canal for an extended period will lead to longer waiting times for vessels without reservations. “In that regard, we strongly encourage all customers to make use of our Transit Reservation System to reduce the possibility of extensive delays,” it said.

The ACP says it will give full containerships priority during the 2nd and 3rd booking periods, beginning August 1 and 19, respectively. Any remaining slots will be assigned based on customer ranking.

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