The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) has been forced to lower the maximum draft of ships passing through the Neopanamax locks of the expanded Panama Canal due to an ongoing drought.
Despite the implementation of water conservation measures, Gatun Lake’s level has fallen faster than expected, putting pressure on the critical shipping route, the ACP said.
During the first 11 days of April, precipitation levels in the canal’s watershed dropped to about 70% below historical averages, with water entering the watershed from rivers being 80% below average. In response, the AKP announced updated maximum drafts for the Neopanamax locks in Shipping Recommendations A-14-2023 and A-16-2023.
Effective April 19, 2023, the maximum allowable draft for ships passing through the Neopanamax locks was set at 14.48 m (47.5 ft) Tropical Fresh Water (TFW). Further reductions come into effect on April 27, May 5 and May 12 bringing the maximum allowable draft to 14.02 m (46.0 ft) TFW.
Recalling that ships must be within the maximum allowable draft at the time of passage, the ACP warns that waiting times for transit may vary, potentially resulting in a ship arriving within the maximum allowable draft, but then at a standstill subject to a draft reduction waiting for transit. The ACP therefore recommends that waiting times be factored in when planning transit at or near the maximum allowable draft upon arrival.
The ACP will continue to closely monitor Gatun Lake levels and provide timely updates on future proposed adjustments.
This year’s draft restrictions are in stark contrast to last year’s season, which allowed the ACP to maintain a maximum draft of 50 feet during the dry season thanks to rainfall and water-saving practices.