The Panama Canal Authority (CDP) has lifted its draft and daily transit restrictions yet again in another positive sign for the waterway struck by drought issues last year. 

The authority marked the eighth anniversary of its $5bn 2016 expansion project by raising its maximum draft from 46 to 47ft and adding an extra booking slot for its Neopanamax locks to begin on 5 August. 

Additionally, the CDP revealed it would increase the draft further to 48ft on 11 July after seeing positive projected water levels for the Gatun Lake, the primary water source for the canal’s many locks which had been hit by drought throughout 2023. 

Panama Canal Administrator Ricuarte Vásquez Morales said: “This anniversary is distinct from previous ones since we have had to adapt our operations following the recent drought and the climatic variability affecting water levels at Lakes Gatun and Alhajuela. 

“In this critical period, we have prioritized the well-being of the population, guaranteeing the supply of drinking water and, on the other hand, ensuring the reliability of the service to our customers.” 

The announcements come a month after the authority last raised the canal’s draft restrictions and added daily transit slots, with the change in August now set to take the total number of ships permitted through the waterway to 35 per day. 

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Severe droughts in Panama, and specifically the Panama Canal Basin, left 2023 as the second driest year on record for the region and forced the CDP to drastically cut its transit numbers as it adapted to the limited water supply. 

The crisis forced the world’s shipping operators to find alternative routes through and around the Americas with some, including Maersk, turning to rail links to bridge the gap. 

While the region’s issues appear to be easing in 2024, scientists have warned that weather phenomena caused by climate change, such as the El Niño system, could make the drought issues more and more prominent.