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Web Alert: Drought forces further draft restrictions on the Panama Canal

08 May 2019

The unprecedented drought hitting Panama has forced authorities to make a sixth draft restriction change this year.

Effective from May 28, ships transiting through the new neopanamax locks will have a maximum authorised draft of 13.11m, shaving another 30cm off from the last restriction issued at the end of last month.

The latest ruling means ships transiting the waterway will be more than 2m less in draft than the original design capacity of the new locks. The Panama Canal Authority cited the dropping water levels in Gatun Lake for the latest directive.

Gatún — one of the largest artificial lakes in the world, with an area of 436sq km located near the Atlantic end of the canal — is more than 1.4m below normal levels for this time of year. Images of trees that used to be submerged but are now exposed due to the low water levels of Lake Gatún have been recorded in recent days. A smaller lake that also supplies the waterway, Alajuela, is more than 2.2m below usual water levels. The flow of rivers to the lake is down approximately 60% on the back of one of the driest periods in the canal’s history where there has been almost zero precipitation this year with local authorities citing the El Nino weather phenomenon for the drought.​