By Elida Moreno
PANAMA CITY, June 21 (Reuters) – The Panama Canal will expand restrictions on the largest ships crossing the waterway, one of the world’s busiest trade passages, the canal authority administrator said on Wednesday, citing shallower waters due to the Drought.
The measure follows a series of depth restrictions in the 50-mile (80 km) canal since earlier this year due to a drought that authorities had hoped would ease as the Central American country’s wet season began.
Shipping traffic, including container ships and oil tankers, using the Atlantic-Pacific Canal accounts for about 3.5% of world trade.
The new restrictions, which take effect Sunday, restrict neo-Panamax container ships to a depth limit of 43.5 feet (13.3 meters), meaning they will either have to carry less cargo or shed weight to swim higher .
The previous maximum draft was 44.0 feet.
Tighter rules will also apply to Panamax ships using the canal’s older locks on July 9, the port authority told customers in a note seen by Reuters.
An additional limit will apply to both classes from July 19.
Port Manager Ricaurte Vasquez said the July 19 measure will depend on how much rain flows into the lake system around the canal, calling the current lack of rainfall “worrying” as the canal basin also needs to provide additional drinking water for residents.
El Nino, a periodic warming weather phenomenon, has resulted in a severe drought along the Pacific coast.
So far, despite new regulations limiting ship weight, ships have flown through the canal as expected, Vasquez said.
However, he warned that this could have an impact depending on rainfall and higher track costs due to the new limits.
The limits will not affect liquefied natural gas (LNG) tankers, which typically report drafts of up to 37 feet, according to the Canal Authority.
(Reporting by Eli Moreno; Text by Kylie Madry; Editing by Sonali Paul)
(c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2023.