Nine days after issuing a preliminary warning of its possibility, the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) on Friday went ahead and set draft restrictions for vessels using the Canal.
The measure is a temporary restriction only intended as a precaution because of the effects of the El Nino weather phenomenon which scientists say is likely to be potent this year and has already created drought conditions.
From September 8, says the ACP, the maximum authorised transit draft will be set at 11.89 metres Tropical Fresh Water (TFW). And that draft may be restricted again to as low as 11.73 metres by September 16 depending on conditions.
El Nino is characterised by above-average Pacific Ocean sea surface temperatures and atmospheric conditions that change the places where storms go.
In the Panama Canal it is associated with less rainfall and a drop in the water levels of Gatun and Alajuela (formerly Madden) artificial lakes, which affect Canal operations.
This year drought conditions have resulted and water levels of the two lakes have fallen well below their average for this time of year.