Drought will hit Panama Canal income this year

The Panama Canal Authority has warned of a significant decline in its income for the year ahead as an ongoing water shortage impacts the maximum throughput for its locks.

Canal administrator Ricaurte Vasquez said during a presentation on Thursday August 3rd , called to celebrate the role of the Panama Canal.

The canal authority had hoped that July, which is typically the beginning of the rainy season, would enable a recovery in the water levels in the man-made Gatun Lake feed by the Chagres River. At the end of July the canal authority was able to defer a planned further half a foot reduction in the draft limit for ships transiting the canal. It said that it would maintain a draught of 44ft over the next few months, providing the weather conditions did not vary significantly from our current projections. The draught at the beginning of the year had been 50ft.

One way in which the authority had prevented a further restriction was by limiting the number of daily transits through both the new and original locks. Previously having handled 34 to 36 ships per day, they were now reducing it to a maximum of 32 ships per day, with only 10 daily transits through the larger Neopanamax locks. Each use of the locks sees a loss of water from the reservoir to the sea.

Vasquez said that as a result of the ongoing restrictions the authority was now projecting that the canal’s revenue for the year could decline by as much as $200m from the initial October-September projection of $4.9bn.

The new Neopanamax locks, inaugurated in June 2016, account for just over 50% of the tonnage transiting the canal annually having handled over 20,600 vessels since they opened.

Another issue raised by Vasquez in his speech was the fact that nearly 2,000 employees of the authority were close to retirement age. He said the authority needed to attract new skills and young people for its future operation.