Panama Canal trims vessel passage quota again to deal with severe drought

FILE PHOTO: Monrovia NSU CHALLENGER bulk carrier transits the expanded canal through Cocoli Locks at the Panama Canal, on the outskirts of Panama City, Panama April 19, 2023. REUTERS/Aris Martinez/File Photo

PANAMA CITY (Reuters) - Daily ship crossings on the Panama Canal, one of the world's main maritime trade routes, will be reduced to 31 from 32 to soften the impact from a severe drought that is expected to last until next year, the authorities managing the canal said.

The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) in recent months has imposed various passage restrictions to conserve water, including cutting vessel draft and daily passage authorizations, which are normally 36 per day.

ACP said late on Friday that due to the ongoing water crisis, it "finds it necessary to implement additional changes," with the new rules implemented from Nov. 1.

The daily crossings will see nine ships pass through the Neopanamax lock and 22 through the Panamax lock, the ACP said, while transit reservation quotas will be adjusted to a maximum of 30 per day.

To avoid delays and ship backlogs, the ACP will also offer a new schedule for the Neopanamax locks and the Panamax locks, part of efforts to allow customers to adjust their itineraries and reduce waiting times for vessels that do not have a daily transit schedule.

Experts have warned of possible disruptions to maritime trade in the face of what is shaping up to be an even drier period next year.

They argue that a possible early start to Panama's dry season and above-average temperatures could increase evaporation and lead to near-record-low water levels in April.

The restrictions have generated long queues of waiting vessels, although the canal administration said Friday that levels were normal. The effects have led the canal to estimate a reduction in revenues of up to $200 million by 2024.

(Reporting by Elida Moreno; Editing by Drazen Jorgic and Leslie Adler)

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