Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Panama Canal Reduces Permissible Vessel Drafts as Drought Hits Central America

El Nino Causes Problems for Ships in Transit
Shipping News Feature

PANAMA – The Panama Canal Authority has announced a temporary restriction on the maximum draft of vessels transiting the waterway due to the effects of unstable weather caused by El Niño. From September 8, the maximum allowable draft will be 11.89 metres (39 feet) in tropical freshwater, down from the current 12.04 metres (39.5 feet), though not a big change the limit is thought to affect 18.5% of the vessels that regularly transit the route.

El Niño is the ‘warm phase’ of a weather event known as the Southern Oscillation and is a phenomenon which sees above-normal temperatures in the Pacific Ocean causing extreme weather around the world. When this occurs, El Niño changes the pattern of rainfall in many regions, and in this case, it has triggered a drought in the Canal Watershed, causing the water levels of Gatun and Alhajuela Lakes to fall substantially below their average for this time of year.

If the drought persists, the Canal authority has warned that it could further reduce to maximum draft to 11.7 metres (38.5 feet) from September 16. The Panama Canal will continue to monitor and manage the water levels of Gatun and Alhajuela Lakes. Should further draft restrictions be confirmed, notice will be given at least four weeks in advance to allow shippers time for proper planning. On the other hand, should rainfall increase over the next week or two, the draft restriction could be lifted.

Photo: Miraflores Locks taken at the time of writing.