PanCanal draft restrictions in effect

The drought is a regional phenomenon across Central America, northern South America and the Caribbean, part of an El Niño event with different effects elsewhere on the planet. For a canal that operates on fresh water flowing by gravity from reservoirs into locks, it’s a major industrial problem.

PanCanal draft restrictions in effect

by Eric Jackson

Ships passing through the Panama Canal are not allowed to ride as low in the water as they might. On March 26, for the first time in 18 years, canal draft restrictions went into effect. Ships that used to be allowed a 39.5-foot draft may now only take a 39-foot draft, and if nature doesn’t replenish the water in the Panama Canal Watershed the maximum allowable draft will be reduced in six-inch increments. It means that ships designed to use the canal’s ordinary limits will have to carry less cargo in order to ride higher in the water, a substantial economic hit to shipping lines.

It isn’t sudden news, as the canal can’t very well tell a ship already en route that its cargo is too heavy. Or at least, that’s the traditional thinking. It is possible, although it’s costly, for an overloaded ship to offload some of its cargo at one of the ports by the canal, ship it across the isthmus by rail and pick it up again after passing through the waterway. The cost there would be both port and railroad fees and the probably much greater expense of lost time. Thus the warnings about draft restrictions started coming from the ACP months ago and the specific notices weeks ago.

From where these words are written on the morning of April 27 in a dry area of Cocle province, the skies are overcast for the third straight day and in that time the dry season winds have ceased their howling out of the north. However, in this place we have not had any rainstorms yet this year. Other parts of Panama have had rain, but far less than usual.

ACP note
The Panama Canal Authority does give timely notice of draft restrictions. This notice is not for the temporary limit that was imposed on April 26, but of the more severe one that would go into effect two steps from now.


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