“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,” declared an ACP statement.
“When this occurs, El Niño changes the pattern of rainfall in many regions of the planet and in this case it has triggered a drought in the Canal Watershed area, causing the water levels of Gatun and Alhajuela Lakes to fall substantially below their average for this time of year.”
The restriction comes at a challenging time for ACP as September is one of the busiest periods for the Panama Canal and particularly for one of its main cargo sectors, containers. The Canal has secured a larger slice of the important Asia/US east coast market over the past 12 months as disruption on the west coast of the US has led to several importers/exporters adjusting their supply chains.
However, ACP said that less than 20% of its transits would be affected by the decision. However, the authority warned that careful monitoring of the situation would take place and that a further cut to 11.7m (38.5ft) could not be ruled out “in order to further guarantee the safety and efficiency of ships transiting the canal”.
The Panama Canal is experienced in water resource management and has responded to similar situations requiring preventative adjustments of operations in the past. The most recent El Niño phenomenon involving similar conditions took place during the 1997-1998 season.