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Tighter Panama Canal draft restrictions could hit Aframaxes, LR2 transit

Houston — The Panama Canal Authority's new maximum draft restriction of 45 feet, or 13.72 meters, could impede the transit of Aframaxes and Long Range 2 tankers through the Neopanamax Locks, as a fully laden Aframax or LR2 has a draft of 14.9 meters.

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The canal authority, or ACP, said Tuesday it will tighten the maximum draft restriction in Gatun Lake, effective April 10, based on the projected precipitation and water levels of the lake in the coming weeks. As of Wednesday, the current maximum draft restriction in Gatun Lake is 47 feet, or 14.33 meters. The ACP announced this restriction on February 12.

Further draft adjustments would be announced in 12-inch, or 30.5-cm, decrements, with advance notice of four weeks, the ACP said Tuesday.

Ships arriving after April 10 with drafts exceeding the maximum 45 feet may be allowed transit, depending on the water level of the Gatun Lakes at the time of passage, according to the ACP. If water levels are too low, ships with drafts exceeding 45 feet must trim or offload cargo in order to steam through.

Tuesday's announcement marks the fifth change in the maximum draft restriction for the canal in 2019, with the ACP having announced on February 28 a fourth restriction of 46 feet, or 14.02 meters, which will come into effect March 29.

Suezmaxes, when fully laden, cannot transit the canal at a 45-foot draft, as tankers of this class usually require a 50-foot draft for a full 1 million-barrel cargo of 43 API crude.

For dry bulk, Neopanamax and Capesize ships cannot transit the canal at a 47-foot (14.33-meter) draft, as they require maximum drafts of 15 meters and 20 meters, respectively.

Clean Medium Range and Long Range 1 tankers, dirty Panamax tankers and all LNG tanker classes can transit fully laden at the restricted 47-foot (14.33 meter) draft. Handysize, Supramax and Ultramax, and Panamax size dry bulk carriers, with maximum drafts of 10 meters, 11 meters and 12 meters, respectively, will be able to pass through the restricted 14.33-meter maximum draft.

The Neopanamax locks are designed to allow ships with a draft up to 50 feet, or 15.2 meters, to transit. The maximum draft restrictions are based off the deepest point of Gatun Lake in tropical fresh water at a density of 0.9954 at 29.4 degrees Celsius (85 degrees Fahrenheit).

--Marieke Alsguth, marieke.alsguth@spglobal.com

--Edited by Richard Rubin, richard.rubin@spglobal.com