The 49.5-foot draft restriction for the Neopanamax locks at the Panama Canal has been suspended, effective immediately and until further notice, according to a recent advisory by the Panama Canal Authority, or ACP.
The maximum draft at the Neopanamax locks had previously been reduced to 49.5 feet, or 15.09 meters, effective March 24. The updated maximum authorized draft allowed for vessels is 50 feet, or 15.24 meters.
The ACP said it would continue to monitor the level of Gatun Lake in order to announce future draft adjustments in a timely manner.
The suspension of the draft restrictions allows for fully-laden Suezmaxes to continue transiting the Panama Canal, as the tanker class typically requires a 50-foot draft when carrying a 1 million barrel crude cargo.
At the full Neopanamax draft of 50 feet, both New Panamax and Ultra Large Container ships, carrying up to 14,5000 twenty-foot equivalent containers and in excess of 14,500 TEUs, can now transit the Canal fully laden.
Transit times remain a challenge
The Canal has seen extended waiting times for ships wanting to transit the waterway, particularly for northbound transits, due to a combination of seasonal fog and higher-than-average arrivals, the ACP said in a note May 11.
For Neopanamax, Panamax plus and LNG ship classes, the ACP indicated on May 11 a whopping 17-day waiting time projection for northbound transits from the Atlantic to the Pacific, compared to delays of nine days reported on April 28.
For Super class ships, which include both Medium Range and Long Range 1 clean tankers and Panamax class dirty tankers, reported waiting times on May 11 were at eight days southbound and five days northbound.
“The Panama Canal has taken measures already to reduce the backlog, however, the time required to return to normal levels will depend mainly on arrivals,” a shipping source said.
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