Inchape Shipping Services (ISS), one of the world’s leading maritime and cargo services providers, issue ‘port alerts’ when any factors affect the normal running of a port of maritime facility.
One ‘port alert’ issued in mid August grabbed my attention – it advised of reduced draft for the transit of the Panama Canal as a result of drought restrictions which have depleted water levels in Gatun Lake. This is the first time that the Panama Canal has imposed draft restrictions this far into the rainy season due to the El Niño weather pattern.
From 8 September 2015, the maximum authorised transit draft for the Panama Canal will be 11.89 metres (39.0 feet) Tropical Fresh Water (TFW). The advance guidance issued by the Panama Canal Authority is specifically to enable vessels loading in distant ports to adjust cargo loading plans and allow them to comply with the draft restriction on arrival at the Panama Canal.
The new restrictions also state that vessels loaded prior to 11 August 2015 to a draft over 11.89 metres (39.0 feet) will be waived for transit, subject to safety considerations. However, vessels loaded on or after 11 August 2015 must comply with the restrictions and may be required to trim or offload cargo, depending on the actual level of Gatun Lake at the time of the transit (where the lake level allows, the transit of vessels at deeper draft may be permitted).