Panama Canal draft raised to 45 feet on recent rains

13 Aug 2019

The authority cut the draft of vessels permitted in the 50-foot-deep channel to 44 feet through a series of restrictions that reduced the allowable draft by a foot each time, beginning with a cut to 49 feet on Jan. 4. The move came after water in the canal watershed fell to 90 % of the historical average.

A proposed draft cut to 43 feet was announced May 3 but scrapped before its May 28 implementation. The authority said on July 11 the depth would remain at 44 feet until further notice.

Early in the year, the authority said vessels with drafts deeper than the limit might still get through the canal if there was sufficient water, or they would have to offload cargo. Still, the shallower drafts were expected to force some container lines to reduce the amount of cargo loaded onto vessels, especially from the Far East.

Some carriers were able to alter stowage plans for neo-Panamax ships to get through the depth-limited canal. The shallow drafts also pushed up spot rates on cargo from Asia, although it’s unclear how much was due to reduced loading capacity and how much was used by carrier representatives as justification to seek higher rates.

At the JOC Gulf Shipping Conference in Houston in May, CMA CGM America president Ludovic Renou said the restrictions had not hurt the carrier’s utilization because its vessels passing through the Canal to the East Coast were not fully loaded as some East Coast port harbors aren’t deep enough yet.

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