by Alida Moreno
PANAMA CITY (Reuters) – The Panama Canal sees no need for further vessel transit restrictions until at least April, when its authority will evaluate water levels at the end of the dry season, Deputy Administrator Ilya Espino told Reuters.
Last year, a severe drought forced the canal to reduce the number of ships passing daily. In December, rainfall in the last quarter of the year allowed the waterway to suspend further restrictions that would have been in place in January.
Espino said that in recent months, attacks on ships in the Red Sea have prompted many shipowners to take longer routes to and from Asia, increasing demand for transit through Panama.
“At least through April, we will maintain 24” authorized transits per day, he said in an interview late Tuesday.
If rains occur in May as expected, the canal plans to progressively increase daily slots, aiming for a return of about 36 ships per day, its normal number during the rainy season. If rainfall is less than expected, the authority may impose further restrictions on the vessel’s maximum depth, daily route or draft.
He said, “If the rains do not start in May, we will re-evaluate whether to cut transit by one or two ships per day, or reduce the maximum ship draft to 43 feet.” The authority is also monitoring evaporation in the reservoirs during the dry season.
The canal currently allows vessels with a maximum draft of 44 feet. The Panama Canal Authority has avoided cutting that number because it would force many ships to reduce their load, making transportation of some products unprofitable.
Container ships have priority passing through Panama, but transit restrictions since last year have affected other categories, particularly bulk carriers.
Need to conserve water level…