Faced with an enormous drought brought about by El Nino, the Panama Canal Authority imposed yesterday further draft limits for vessels moving through its expanded locks. The new maximum authorised draft for vessels transiting the neopanamax locks is 13.41 m, nearly 2 m short of its original design draft. This is the fifth time this year the canal’s administrators have had to impose ever stricter draft limits amid an unprecedented drought.
Gatún — one of the largest artificial lakes in the world, with an area of 436 sq km located near the Atlantic end of the canal — is 1.4 m below normal levels for this time of year. Images of trees that used to be submerged but are now exposed due to the low water levels of Lake Gatún have been recorded in recent days. A smaller lake that also supplies the waterway, Alajuela, is 2.2 m below usual water levels. The flow of rivers to the lake is down 60% on the back of one of the driest periods in the canal’s history where there has been almost zero precipitation this year.
The latest draft restrictions bring more weather-related headaches to shipowners who will need to adjust how laden their ships are when transiting the key waterway.
The issue of changing weather patterns hitting shipping schedules was addressed by Jeremy Nixon, CEO of Japanese liner Ocean Network Express (ONE), earlier this month.
Speaking at TOC Asia, a container shipping event in Singapore, Nixon said global warming is leading to liner disruption. Growing fierce weather patterns are causing delays for ports and ships around the world, principally in Asia where the number and ferocity of typhoons are growing, Nixon said.