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Panama postpones latest draft reduction

The sixth draft reduction of the year now is scheduled for June 12 instead of Tuesday.

   The Panama Canal, which has reduced the allowable drafts of ships passing through the waterway’s new large neopanamax locks several times since the start of the year due to a drought, said this week that because of rainfall it is postponing the effective date of its sixth draft reduction to June 12 instead of Tuesday. 
    On that date, the maximum authorized draft for vessels transiting the canal’s Neopanamax locks, which were added in June 2016, will be 43 feet tropical fresh water (TFW), down from 44 feet currently and down from 50 feet at the beginning of the year.
   In the canal’s original Panamax locks, the draft is scheduled to be reduced a foot to 38.5 feet.
   The Panama Canal Authority said it will “
continue to monitor the level of Gatun Lake (which supplies fresh water for the locks) and announce future draft adjustments in a timely manner.”
   Last week the canal authority said Triton, “the largest vessel in dimension and container cargo capacity to pass through the expanded canal since it opened in June 2016,” made a “trial transit” of the waterway.
   Owned by Costamare and chartered by Evergreen, Triton, has a total TEU allowance (TTA) of 15,313 TEUs, a 20-row beam of 51.2 meters and a length of 369 meters and transited the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean.
   However, neither the Panama Canal Authority nor Evergreen would reveal how many containers the ship actually carried. With the reduction in ship drafts, some ships may have to load less cargo.
   For example, Hapag-Lloyd told American Shipper earlier this month, “
The Panama Canal authorities regularly announce update draft for locks, which are subject to the water level of Gatun lake. From March to end of May, we expect a cargo deadweight reduction on our SWX vessels of around 5 to 6%.” The SWX service is between the West Coast of South America and North Europe.
   But information about the effect of the drought on Triton was not forthcoming, so it was not clear how severely it was affected by the low water levels.

   “We’d have to defer you to the customer on these questions as the canal is not able to disclose the amount of containers the vessel was carrying,” a spokesperson for the Panama Canal Authority wrote, adding, Customers only report how much cargo they bring after being notified weeks in advance, not how they adjusted and by how much. Therefore, the canal cannot speak definitively on this subject.”
   A spokesman for Evergreen also could not answer the question, writing,
We can offer no comment on the disposition of the ship or cargo.”
    The Panama Canal Authority also said the largest liquefied natural gas tanker to ever transit the canal had transited last week.
   Carlos Vargas, the vice president of environment and water for the ACP, 
told the Associated Press earlier this month, “These low levels in the Panama Canal are the product of four or five months of almost zero precipitation. It really has been the driest dry season we’ve had in the history of the canal. The flow of rivers to the lake is down 60%.”
  Panama Canal Administrator Jorge L. Quijano said, “We are excited about the opportunities enabled by the Triton’s trial transit. Our team continues to offer the additional capacity and deliver on our promise to provide unparalleled safe and efficient service to our customers. [Triton’s] transit surpassed the 15,000-TEU vessel threshold, establishing a new record in terms of total TEU capacity.
   Triton is deployed on Evergreen’s Far East – United States East Coast (AUE) service as part of the OCEAN Alliance network, which connects Asia and U.S. East Coast ports via the Panama Canal. The AUE service is comprised of 11 vessels ranging in size from 8,000 to 14,000 TEUs. The Alliance includes China COSCO Shipping, Orient Overseas Container Lines (OOCL), CMA CGM Group and Evergreen, which are among the Panama Canal’s top customers by volume.
   The canal authority said half of the 6,000 Neopanamax vessels that have transited the larger locks since June 2016 have been containerships.
   Containerships and gas tankers account for the vast majority, 84%, of ships using the new locks at the Panama Canal. According to the Panama Canal Authority in the first seven months of its current fiscal year, which ends on September 30, 2019 1,617 ships passed through the large neopanamax locks. Of these  47% of the vessels using the new locks were containerships, 24% were tankers carrying liquefied petroleum gas, and 13% were carrying liquefied natural gas. The remaining 16% consisted of dry bulk cargo ships (8%), tankers (5%),  car carriers (2%), passenger ships (1%), and other types (less than 1%). 
   The smaller original locks, in use since 1914, are transited by more ships and have a more balanced mix of ships. Of the 6,591 that passed through the original, smaller, locks through the end of April: 21% were dry bulk vessels, 18% were chemical carriers, 11% were containerships, 7% were vehicle carriers, 7% were refrigerated cargo ships, 5% were general cargo ships, 5% were tankers, 3% were passenger ships, 3% were LPG tankers, and 20% were other vessel types.

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Chris Dupin

Chris Dupin has written about trade and transportation and other business subjects for a variety of publications before joining American Shipper and Freightwaves.