More draft restrictions for vessels using Panama Canal

The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) has announced its third recent temporary draft restriction because of water-level concerns in Gatun Lake, on which the Canal depends.

This restriction will be effective from May 9 and will lower the maximum draft for loaded vessels transiting the waterway to 38 feet (11.59 metres) from the previous mark of 38.5 feet (11.74m) which was announced last week and which will come into effect on April 29.

In line with the practice of reducing drafts by half a foot each time, the first of the recent restrictions – announced on March 21 and due to be effective from April 18 – set a draft maximum of 39 feet (11.89m).

The normal maximum allowable draft for vessels using the inter-oceanic conduit is 39.5 feet (12.03m).

Vessels already loaded on the date restrictions are announced are exempt from the restriction provided there are no safety considerations.

This series of restrictions results from drought caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon, which features higher than average Pacific Ocean temperatures that effect where storms occur – in Panama’s case it means less rainfall than the ideal.

Each draft restriction is based on present and projected levels of the crucial Gatun Lake.

The ACP has set June 26 as the date for inaugurating the Canal’s expansion, culmination of a $5.3bn project to allow the Canal to carry cargo vessels with three times the current capacity.

With that in mind, on Thursday the ACP launched transit reservations for Neopanamax vessels effective from June 27, the day after the inauguration.

Neopanamax ships are over 966 feet (294.44m) in length or over 107 feet (32.62m) in beam and will be allowed a maximum of four booking slots per day with no more than two in each direction and one of the spots offered to a passenger vessel.


Donal Scully

With 28 years experience writing and editing for newspapers in the UK and Hong Kong, Donal is now based in California from where he covers the Americas for Splash as well as ensuring the site is loaded through the Western Hemisphere timezone.
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