Panama Canal Authority Warns of El Niño Draft Restrictions

The Panama Canal Authority has warned of the possible draft restrictions due to the impact the El Niño weather phenomenon, which usually reduces rainfall in the Canal watershed, thus causing the water levels of Gatun and Alhajuela lakes to fall below average levels.

Based on current and projected weather information, analysis of historical data, and the expected impact of our water conservation measures, the Panama Canal has prepared a short and a long-range forecast of Gatun lake levels.

These projections are being reviewed and adjusted on a daily basis. In case that the implementation of draft restrictions is deemed necessary, the shipping community will be informed by means of an Advisory to Shipping announcing the maximum allowable draft (TFW) and the effective date of the implementation of such restriction. This announcement will be made with sufficient time to allow vessels being loaded to comply with the restriction.

Draft restrictions will be imposed in 15-centimeter (six-inch) decrements at a time, each one announced with at least five weeks advance notice. Vessels already loaded to the prevailing draft limitation at the time of promulgation of the new draft restriction will be waived for transit, always subject to overriding safety considerations.

Vessels loaded on or after the date of promulgation of a new draft restriction shall comply with that restriction or may be required to trim or off-load cargo, depending on the level of Gatun lake at the time of arrival.

El Niño is a large-scale ocean-atmosphere climate phenomenon linked to a periodic warming in sea-surface temperatures across the tropical Pacific. El Niño represents the warm phase of the El Niño/Southern Oscillation (ENSO) cycle, and is sometimes referred to as a Pacific warm episode. One of the main effects of El Niño is that it can alter rainfall patterns in many regions of the planet, causing excessive rains in some areas and droughts in others.