The Panama Canal applies from today a restriction on the draft of ships, the first since 1998, and maintains the forecast of establishing a second in the coming weeks, due to the drought that affects the country as a result of the El Niño phenomenon.
The administrator of the Panama Canal Authority (ACP), Jorge Quijano, reported that this Tuesday the draft of the ships was lowered "from 39.5 to 39 feet," a measure that was originally scheduled for April 18. .
The ACP announced last March that from April 18 the maximum allowed draft would be 11.89 meters (39.0 feet) in tropical fresh water.
This first restriction “we were able to postpone it for a week due to the few rains we have had, which did withstand the decline in the lakes” that feed the interoceanic route, “but we can no longer do it and we have to establish it from today”, he explained Quijano.
He reiterated that there is another similar measure “scheduled for the 29th? this month, that "we think we can delay it a little longer, but not much," he said in statements to journalists without further clarification.
Quijano himself revealed on the 8th that on the 29th a new restriction would be announced, "of another six inches" on the draft of ships that cross the interoceanic route that has been operational since 1914.
"We forecast that the maximum draft restriction that we are going to have in the current Canal would be 2 feet," Quijano added then.
The administrator explained this Tuesday that "for every 6 inches, which is the case of the first restriction (to the draft), the ship has to come with less load so as not to sink so much in the water."
"That is, (the ship) loses its cargo capacity." If the draft restriction "is 1 foot, there are 2,000 tons that that ship cannot carry," Quijano said.
Gatun and Alhajuela lakes below average
The draft restriction, which was not applied since 1998, is “temporary and preventive”, and is due to the fact that the Gatún and Alhajuela lakes, which feed the road, “are below their average levels for the time”, has said the ACP.
"Draft restrictions will be carried out in a decreasing 15 centimeters (six inches) with each restriction announced at least four weeks in advance", reported last March the administration of the Panama Canal, where 6% of the trade passes world.
The worst drought in 100 years
The drought that is hitting Panama, the worst in 100 years according to the authorities, will force the expanded Panama Canal to begin commercial operations with a draft restriction at the end of June.
“On June 27 we would be starting what would be normal operation” of the Canal expansion, and it will be possible to “offer 41 feet of draft in the new locks and in the new channels, which is less than the 50 (feet) that we are going to be able to offer when we have the lakes at normal levels ”, said Quijano on the 8th.
The expansion of the Panama Canal will be inaugurated on June 26 with a great protocol act that includes the passage of a first ship and the presence of dozens of heads of State and Government from around the world, as well as representatives of shipping companies.
Photo: The drought forces the Panama Canal to restrict the draft of ships. EFE / ARTURO WONG