The Panama Canal will raise its draft restrictions to 45ft and increase capacity for daily transits using its Neopanamax locks ahead of schedule in a promising sign for the waterway beset by drought issues since last year.

The Panama Canal Authority (PCA) said the decision was made thanks to the incoming rainy season and the current water levels of Gatun Lake, which are above 2023 numbers recorded on the same date for the first time in 2024. 

PCA had already raised the daily transit capacity for the Panamax locks from 17 to 24 on 16 May but will now add another daily transit to the Neopanamax locks capacity, bringing it to eight vessels per day ahead of the 15 June date initially scheduled.

The positive beginning to the region’s rainy season will be welcome to the shipping industry which had been forced to adapt to dramatically reduced access to the canal, usually one of the busiest shipping lanes in the world. 

PCA’s recent advisory follows the government agency’s positive forecasts at the beginning of the year thanks to an initial uplift in the projections for the water levels at Gatun and Alhajuela Lakes, which provide water needed to operate the canal’s locks. 

Restrictions have been in place at the canal since May 2023 when the local government declared a state of environmental emergency over historically low rainfall thanks to a drought and the effect of the El Niño weather phenomenon. 

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As a result of the weather events, 2023 proved to be the second driest year on record for the Panama Canal Watershed.