The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) has issued an Advisory to shipping, which sets a draft restriction for all shipping agents, owners and operators working with the Canal.
These temporary and preventive measures are due to an anticipated climatic variability event related to El Niño, a climate phenomenon resulting in periodic warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean.
When this occurs, El Niño changes the pattern of rainfall in many regions of the planet. In this case, it has triggered a drought in the Canal Watershed, causing the water levels of Gatun and Alhajuela Lakes to fall substantially below their average for this time of year.
The Advisory sets the maximum draft at 11.89 meters (39.0 feet) Tropical Fresh Water (TFW), effective September 8, 2015. The maximum authorized transit draft is defined as the deepest point of TFW immersion for each specific vessel in Gatun Lake.
The draft restrictions are not expected to significantly affect the efficiency or capacity of Canal operations since only 18.5 percent of the vessels transit with drafts greater than 11.89 meters (39.0 feet).
Given the information available, the Panama Canal also anticipates in their Advisory that the draft may be restricted to 11.73 meters (38.5 feet) starting September 16, 2015 to further guarantee the safety and efficiency of ships transiting the Canal.