The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) has issued a ‘circular to shipping’ establishing certain temporary restrictions on vessel draught for all agents, owners and operators of the waterway.
This temporary and preventive action is taken due to the effects of El Nino, which results in the periodic warming of ocean waters in the tropical Pacific, the ACP said in a statement.
When this happens, El Nino changes the pattern of rainfall in many regions of the planet, with the consequent drought in the watershed of the canal, which has caused Madden and Gatun Lakes to be below their average levels for this time.
The circular states that the maximum allowed draught of 11.89 metres (39 feet) in tropical freshwater will be effective from 18 April 2016. The maximum authorised draught is defined by the deepest point of immersion specific to each vessel in Gatun Lake. These measures are applied to ensure the continued safe operation of the waterway.
Vessels with a greater draught to 11.89 metres before or on 21 March will not have to follow the draught restriction, subject to security considerations. Vessels loaded after 21 March must comply with the measure.
Draught restrictions will be implemented decreasingly 15 centimetres with each restriction announced at least four weeks in advance.
The ACP will continue to monitor the water levels of the lakes, and in the event that this second restriction is confirmed, the circular formal notification will be sent at least four weeks in advance to allow proper planning for the Panama Canal’s customers. On the other hand, if the amount of rainfall increases in the coming weeks, shipping will be informed if the restriction is suspended.
The Panama Canal has experience in the management of water resources. The more recent phenomenon of El Nino with similar proportions was experienced during the period 1997-1998.
The ACP will provide information on the measures taken, and will closely monitor the situation to ensure the safety and efficiency of its services, it said.
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