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Focus on Panama

Panama Canal in further draught reductions, warns of cutting transit numbers

Photo: ACP Panama Canal locks
The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) has announced a continued series of draught reductions and warns of “extreme measures” if the severe drought continues.

The ACP said it will progressively decrease the maximum draught in the Neopanamax locks to 13.11 metres (43 ft) next July, in response to the country's drought, which has diminished the water level of the artificial lakes that feed the waterway.

The authority made this announcement in a navigation notice dated 14 June, in which it states that it "corrects the draught in metres of the 13.11 metres (43.0-foot) restriction and separates dates and draft restrictions by set of locks".

As of June 19, the Canal offers Neopanamax vessels, which are three times the size of the ships that pass through the century-old locks, a maximum draught of 13.41 metres (44 ft) will be imposed, which will be reduced to 13.26 metres (43.5 ft) on 25 June and to 13.11 metres (43 ft) from 19 July.

The maximum draught offered by the canal expansion is 15.24 metres (50 ft) in normal conditions meaning that if conditions do not improve by 19 July maximum draught will have been cut by over two metres.

The ACP "will continue to monitor the level of Gatun Lake and will announce future draft adjustments in a timely manner," the navigation notice said.

Already on 19 April, the waterway began implementing its fifth draft restriction for Neopanamax vessels, which were offered a draught of 14.47 metres (47.5 ft).

Panama Canal Administrator Ricaurte Vasquez warned that if the drought continues in Panama, the ACP would have to decide, as an "extreme measure", whether to limit daily transits on the waterway from the current 36 to 28 vessels.

The Neopanamax locks boosted the numbers of vessels transiting the canal, in particular containerships transiting from Asia to the US East Coast. According to Xeneta in April 285 Neopanamax vessels used the waterway half of which are containerships. It noted at the beginning of June that “each incremental cut has significant volume ramifications”.

ParcelHero’s Head of Consumer Research, David Jinks, warned last week, “The drastic new draught restrictions will reduce the volume of cargo that the largest, ‘Neopanamax’, container vessels can carry through this key waterway by up to 40%.” 

Panama's climate system is governed by a rainy and a dry season. The former starts in May and lasts approximately until November, and the latter runs from December to April, but has extended this year.