Due to an unusually low amount of rain in December, the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) announced Monday that the maximum draft for a ship transiting the Neopanamax locks will be restricted to 49 feet, or 14.94 meters, as of February 11.
The new restriction will decrease the maximum allowed draft in the Gatun Lake by 1 foot, or by 0.3 meter from the last maximum restriction, which was implemented June 26, 2018m at 50 feet, or 15.24 meters.
The decrease in the maximum allowable draft is based on the projected water level of Gatun Lake. The ACP announced that the precipitation during December was around 90% below the historic average in the Panama Canal watershed, which caused water levels at the Gatun and Madden Lakes to drop lower than expected for the season. As a result, the ACP will implement water conservation measures to minimize the effects of the lower water levels and to delay any further seasonal draft adjustments.
Vessels with drafts exceeding 49 feet may be allowed to steam on the Gatun Lake, depending on the level of the lake at the time, according to the ACP. If water levels are too low, vessels exceeding the 49-foot draft restriction will have to trim or off-load cargo to pass.
At a 49-foot draft, a Suezmax cannot transit the canal fully laden, as such dirty tankers typically require a 50-foot draft for a full 1 million barrel cargo of 43 API crude. Clean Medium Range and Long Range 1 tankers, however, which usually transit the canal carrying naphtha and gasoline blending components, can transit fully laden at the restricted 49-foot draft.
In addition to the new draft restrictions to be implemented February 11, the ACP stated it would announce draft adjustments for the Neopanamax locks in 30-centimeter decrements at a time during the dry season, with at least four weeks notice in advance.
The Neopanamax locks are designed at capacity to allow vessels with a draft of 50 feet, or 15.2 meters, to transit. The maximum draft restrictions are based off the deepest point of the Gatun Lake in Tropical Fresh Water at a density of 0.9954 at 29.4 degrees Celsius, or 85 degrees Fahrenheit.