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Focus on Panama

Panama Canal lowers draught restrictions again to cope with drought

Photo: Panama Canal Authority LNG transiting the Panama Canal.jpeg
A severe drought affecting the Panama Canal is forcing the Panama Cana Authority (ACP) to reduce draughts and container vessels to lighten their loads.

Rainfall was less than 50% of normal from February to April near the canal and the lakes that feed it, said ACP. Rainfall levels were in line with 2019, which saw the lowest levels in two decades.

Water levels in Lake Gatun—the largest of two lakes that feed the canal—are projected to hit historic lows by July, restricting ships’ draughts and how much cargo they can carry.

Starting May 24, Neo-Panamax vessels—the largest ships that transit the waterway—will be limited to draughts of up to 13.56 metres (44.5 feet) down from an already restricted 13.71 metres (45 feet). The draught limit will again be reduced to 13.41 metres (44 feet) on May 30.

Normal operating draughts for the canal are 15.24 metres (50 feet). During the droughts of 2019 and 2016, the draught limit went as low as 13.16 metres (43 feet).

Among the Neo-Panamax users of the Panama Canal in April, container vessels made up 45% of traffic, followed by carriers of liquefied petroleum gas, dry bulk and liquefied natural gas.