Severe drought forces the Panama Canal to limit the number of daily ship transits Ship’s crew

The Panama Canal Authority has announced plans to reduce daily ship transits to help conserve water due to the ongoing drought.

The new restrictions come as the ACP countries have already introduced a series of draft restrictions on the critical waterway, limiting the amount of cargo ships they can carry.

The Panama Canal Authority said it was implementing additional measures to reduce the possibility of draft restrictions due to the prolonged dry season in the Panama Canal watershed, despite water conservation measures and the arrival of the rainy season. This year’s El Niño has resulted in drier than usual conditions in Panama, which has resulted in lower water levels in Lake Gatun.

From July 30, 2023, the daily transit capacity of the Panama Canal will be adjusted to an average of 32 ocean-going vessels per day, with 10 vessels in the Neopanamax locks and 22 vessels in the Panamax locks. The ACP warns that capacity could be further adjusted based on factors such as Gatun Lake level, weather forecasts and vessel mix.

The maximum sustainable capacity of the Panama Canal, including the Panamax and Neopanamax locks, is about 38–40 vessels per day, but in general about 34–38 vessels operate each month. In the last two months of May and June, there were only 32.58 and 32.13 transits per day on average, respectively.

The ACP says it will give priority to full container ships during the 2nd and 3rd booking periods beginning August 1 and 19 respectively. Any remaining slots will be awarded based on customer ranking.

The AKP notes that a sustained decline in daily transits through the Panama Canal will result in increased wait times for vessels without reservations. “In this regard, we strongly encourage all customers to use our transit reservation system to reduce the possibility of significant delays,” it said.

The ACP added that it reserves the right to implement additional measures and procedures for the safe and efficient operation of the waterway.

The last decade has seen prolonged dry spells along the Panama Canal, the second and fifth driest years in over 70 years. The month of May was the driest month since 1950, exacerbating ongoing water shortages in the Panama Canal watershed.

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