Panama Canal Authority Maintains Maximum Draft Allowance Amid Drought


Panama City, July 6, 2023 – The Panama Canal Authority (PCA) has announced that it will maintain draft allowances for neopanamax ships at a maximum of 13.40 meters (44 feet) throughout the duration of this year’s severe drought. This decision comes as the canal narrowly avoided implementing further restrictions just two weeks ago. PCA administrator Ricaurte Vasquez made the statement, shedding light on the ongoing challenges faced by the Panama Canal as it copes with the driest year since 1950.

The prolonged drought has already led to increased wait times and congestion along the waterway. As of 5 a.m. local time on Tuesday, a total of 31 vessels with booked transit slots, encompassing all vessel types, were queuing to enter the Canal. Additionally, 61 units without transit slots were also waiting, further exacerbating the situation. To manage the situation, the canal is presently permitting approximately 30-31 ships to transit daily, compared to the usual 36-37 on a “very good day,” according to Vasquez.

In response to the challenging circumstances, the PCA’s board is scheduled to convene on July 6 to discuss a plan of action. Subsequently, the board will engage in discussions with government officials over the next four weeks to determine the best course of action moving forward. Vasquez indicated that if the canal receives more rainfall than anticipated, it could potentially increase the draft allowances to alleviate the pressure on vessel traffic.

The Panama Canal is a vital global trade route, facilitating the transportation of goods between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Any disruptions or limitations in its operations have far-reaching implications for international commerce. The PCA is committed to managing the situation and ensuring the smooth flow of traffic despite the unprecedented challenges posed by the prevailing drought conditions.

As the PCA seeks ways to address the water scarcity issue, stakeholders, including shipping companies and governments, eagerly await updates and potential measures to mitigate the impact on maritime trade. The upcoming meetings and subsequent discussions will provide a platform to evaluate the situation comprehensively and chart a path forward that safeguards the canal’s operational integrity while balancing environmental considerations and economic imperatives.

While the Panama Canal continues to navigate through these unprecedented circumstances, stakeholders remain hopeful that effective strategies and potential rainfall could bring much-needed relief to the vital waterway.

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