Panama Canal Announces Draft Restrictions Due to Drought
The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) has announced an upcoming draft restriction for all vessels, to take effect in mid-April. The ACP says the measures are being taken to ensure the safe operation of the Canal during a prolonged dry spell.
The measures have been planned due to drought caused by El Niño. During an El Niño year, the pattern of rainfall changes in many areas; in Panama, it has triggered a drought in the Canal's watershed, causing the water levels of Gatun and Alhajuela Lakes to fall substantially below their average for this time of year.
The Canal has set the maximum vessel draft at 39 feet Tropical Fresh Water (TFW) effective April 18. The maximum authorized transit draft is defined as the deepest point of TFW immersion for each vessel in the Gatun Lake section of the Canal route.
The ordinary maximum transit draft for the canal is 39.5 feet TFW. (TFW is the deepest draft mark for a vessel, as warm freshwater is less dense than seawater).
Vessels loaded to drafts over 39 feet on or before March 21 will have the draft restriction waived for transit, so long as ACP deems the draft to be safe. Vessels loaded after March 21 will have to comply with the new restriction. The Canal Authority indicated that it may implement further reductions in maximum draft. Any further draft restrictions will be put in place in six inch increments at a time, the ACP says, with each restriction announced at least four weeks in advance.
The Canal Authority came close to implementing restrictions in September 2015, but avoided their use due to improvements in rainfall, water management practices, and deepening of navigational channels. ACP said that the most recent El Niño phenomenon involving similar conditions took place during the 1997-1998 season.