Drought Conditions Force Panama Canal to Lower Vessel Draft

The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) has lowered the maximum draft of the largest vessels transiting the canal due to falling water levels at the lake system that forms part of the waterway.

Water levels at Gatun Lake have been falling faster than anticipated amid the ongoing drought, putting pressure on the vital shipping lane.  The first half of April saw precipitation levels in the canal’s watershed plummet to ~70% below normal levels.

In response, the ACP has lowered the maximum draft – the distance between the waterline and the deepest point of a vessel – from 50 feet Tropical Fresh Water (TFW) to 47.5 feet TFW.

In order to comply with the restrictions, neo-Panamex containerships seeking to cross the canal must reduce their weight or transport fewer goods.

Further reductions are set to take effect on May 5 and May 12, incrementally bringing the maximum authorized draft down to 46.0 feet TFW.

While canal officials have not provided a deadline for the restrictions, they expressed optimism that it may “be lifted as soon as possible” once the rainy season starts, which typically begins at the end of May.