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Panama Canal warns of possible draft restrictions due to 'El Nino'

Panama Canal warns of possible draft restrictions due to 'El Nino'
The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) has warned of possible draft restrictions to transiting vessels due to the dramatic effects of the weather phenomenon “El Nino”.

The term El Nino refers to the large-scale ocean-atmosphere climate phenomenon linked to a periodic warming in sea-surface temperatures across the tropical Pacific. In the Panama Canal this phenomenon generally is associated with the reduction in rainfall in the Canal watershed, thus causing the water levels of Gatun and Madden lakes to fall below average levels.

The ACP said it was closely monitoring the water levels of Gatun and Madden lakes on a regular basis due to the importance that these resources have for transit operations and taking numerous water conservation measures in an effort to reduce the possibility of imposing draft restrictions in the near future as a result of this phenomenon.

In 1998, El Nino caused serious reductions of rainfalls in Panama and in the Canal watershed forcing Canal authorities at the time, to issue draft restrictions.

In case that the implementation of draft restrictions is deemed necessary, the shipping community will be informed by the ACP and the announcement will be made with sufficient time to allow vessels being loaded to comply with the restriction.

If necessary, draft restrictions will be imposed in 15-centimetre (six-inch) decrements at a time, each one announced with at least five weeks advance notice.

Vessels already loaded to the prevailing draft limitation at the time of promulgation of the new draft restriction will be waived for transit, always subject to overriding safety considerations. Vessels loaded on or after the date of promulgation of a new draft restriction shall comply with that restriction or may be required to trim or off-load cargo, depending on the level of Gatun Lake at the time of arrival.

Canal officials will do everything possible to eliminate those restrictions at the earliest opportunity, the ACP said in a Shipping Advisory stressing that this information was provided for planning purposes only, as final actions will be based on actual lake level data, it said.