El Niño drought forces Panama Canal draft restrictions

The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) says it will set temporary draft restrictions on vessels transiting the Canal because of drought caused by El Niño.

In a recent Advisory to Shipping, the ACP warned shipping agents, owners and operators of the upcoming restrictions due to a drought in the Canal Watershed, and that even more restrictions will be required if the drought persists as forecasted.

The Advisory sets the maximum draft at 11.89 meters (39.0 feet), which could impact close to 20% of the traffic that flows through the canal, the ACP said.

The ACP says the new restrictions are to ensure the safe operation of the Canal and they not expected to significantly impact the capacity of efficiency of Canal operations, even though 18.5 of vessels transit with drafts greater than 11.89 meters.

The new restrictions are to become effect September 8, 2015. The Advisory also added that maximum drafts will likely be restricted even further to 11.73 meters (38.5 feet) starting September 16, 2015 barring any unforeseen changes to the current weather forecast.

Forecast models are calling for a strong El Niño through the remainder of this year and possibly into spring 2016.

Similar restrictions were imposed during the 1997-1998 El Niño.

The ACP says it will continue to monitor and manage the water levels of Gatun and Alhajuela Lakes. Should more restrictions be required, the ACP says it will provide customers with at least four weeks notice.

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