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NCL Panama Canal transit 2023 Canceled due to low water levels in Canal?

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Due to drought conditions in the Panama Canal I have read that there is a bottle neck of ships going through the canal and up to 120 ship waiting. Panamax ships are limited to 7-8 per day. Will this effect a December cruise MiA - LAX on the Bliss, or other similar ships and itineraries?

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@Volcanomom Welcome to the forums. I'm sure you realize that none of us really know the answer and that this affects more than NCL ships, one RCL ship has already cancelled. SO, disclaimer aside, here is my view:

Current drought conditions are creating a backlog of ships currently arriving without reservations (poorly funded commercial ships).  Ships with reservations and below a certain ship size (typically a maximum draft limit) are currently able to transit on time. That is not to say this will continue.

Canal water levels are completely dependent on rainfall, there is no return from the ocean. With each vessel crossing, the canal loses water. Panama's rainy season is from May to December, conditions will only worsen as the current drought continues. Keep in mind, that the Canal Authority must be forward looking, as the dry season follows the rainy season, and I'm certain they want to keep operating with perhaps more restrictions than shut down.

My final thought is that cruise ships are a great revenue source for the Canal. However, they are the icing on the cake, whereas all the commercial traffic (container ships, tankers, freighters, etc.) are the cake, mainly due to their vast numbers compared to cruise ships. So who gets cut out?

Clear as mud, right? All you can do is keep checking with your cruise line.

I suggest the moderators move this to the Ports of Call forum.

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@FJB It's probable and could potentially benefit in terms of water level, but I hope a strong hurricane doesn't strike that area! 

@Volcanomom You still have some time before December. Things could change by then so keep a close eye on the news for that region. Hopefully, the water levels rise, and cruising will resume back to normal in the coming months for Panama. I'm sure all of the portside regions want the levels to rise too. Tourism generates lots of income for these costal regions!

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I am surprised that during the building of the new part of the Panama Canal that pumps were not installed to pump downstream water upstream to avoid situations like this.   Aren’t they essentially using twice the amount of water now with 2 canals? 

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Hurricanes - while possible, it's unlikely. Panama has never had a direct landfall hit, (too far south) only glancing blows from tropical storms. Any severe storm will also knock out their electrical grid, making the water level a moot point for awhile.

Lake Gatun, which supplies the water and is a significant part of the route, is also the fresh water drinking source for much of the country. Salt water naturally intrudes via lock operation, but not in the amounts pumping would - that would be an ecological nightmare. (This engineer paid attention to the guide when we sailed the Canal)

Good question on water use per canal. Don't know. I do know that that current restrictions only allow 10 ships via the new canal and 22 through the Panamax canal. (Just noticed my attachments are not working, so trying again).

ADV35-2023-Additional-Measures-to-Mitigate-the-Extended-Dry-Season-and-Reduction-in-Precipitation-in-the-Canal-Watershed.pdf ADV38a-2023-Monthly-Canal-Operations-Summary-July-2023.pdf

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Ok, Not sure about those attachments either. Resorting to cut and paste:

Panama Canal Authority
Vice Presidency for Operations
Advisory To Shipping No. A-35-2023
July 25, 2023
TO: All Shipping Agents, Owners, and Operators
SUBJECT: Additional Measures to Mitigate the Extended Dry Season and Reduction in Precipitation in the Canal Watershed
Despite the arrival of the rainy season in the Isthmus of Panama and the continuous water saving measures that the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) has implemented in the past months to mitigate the adverse effects of the extended dry season in the Canal watershed, the ACP finds it necessary to implement additional measures to reduce the possibility of additional draft restrictions in the upcoming weeks.
Therefore, effective July 30, 2023, and until further notice, the daily transit capacity will be adjusted to an average of 32 vessels per day, normally distributed among the Panamax and Neopanamax locks in the following manner: 10 vessels in the Neopanamax locks and 22 vessels in the Panamax locks. The daily transit capacity may be further adjusted as deemed necessary, depending on the level of Gatun Lake, weather forecasts, and vessel mix.
In addition, during the 2nd and 3rd Booking Period competition for the Panamax locks, full container vessels shall have priority in the assignment of slots over other vessel types. Any remaining slots will be assigned based on customer ranking. For Booking Period 3, the modification will be in effect beginning Tuesday, August 1, 2023, and for Booking Period 2, the modification will be in effect beginning Saturday, August 19, 2023. Applications for reserved slots under this new allocation procedure will be received beginning at 0900 hours Saturday, July 29, 2023.
It is important to note that a reduction in the number of daily transits for an extended period will invariably increase the waiting time for some vessels, particularly those who do not obtain a reservation. In that regard, we strongly encourage all customers to make use of our Transit Reservation System to reduce the possibility of extensive delays.
The ACP may implement additional measures and establish additional procedures, commensurate with the safe and efficient operation of the Canal.
Boris Moreno Vásquez
Vice President for Operations

OP, August 10, 2023
Subject: Monthly Canal Operations Summary – July 2023
Panama Canal Prepares for the Future: Navigating Challenges with Technical Precision
Amidst current challenges, the Panama Canal is taking proactive measures to ensure its competitiveness and operational capacity for the future. Chief among these challenges is the critical issue of freshwater availability for both the population's consumption and the transit of vessels.
During a recent presentation to local and international media, Panama Canal Administrator Ricaurte Vásquez Morales highlighted the ongoing efforts by Canal specialists to manage saltwater intrusion in the Gatun reservoir, a crucial water source for over 50% of the country's population. This situation has been exacerbated by a prolonged dry season, leading to a scarcity of rainfall.
In response to the unpredictable weather patterns and the need to ensure reliable and sustainable service, the Panama Canal will maintain a draft of 44 feet or 13.41 meters in the coming months. This measure will be upheld unless significant changes occur in weather conditions from the current projections. Consequently, the Canal will allow an average of 32 vessels per day to transit during this period.
This draft adjustment is essential because changes in precipitation patterns are expected to affect water availability in Panama, reflecting a global phenomenon, and with the looming possibility of an El Niño condition before the year's end.
Despite the draft adjustment measures, the Panama Canal remains competitive. On August 1, the container ship Ever Max, owned by Evergreen shipping company, successfully made its inaugural transit through the Neopanamax Locks.The vessel, under the Singapore flag and built in 2023, boasts a length of 366 meters and a width of 51 meters, with a draft greater than 50 feet. However, due to the current weather conditions and draft limitations, the vessel had to leave part of its cargo at the Port of Balboa to be then transported by land to the Colon Container Terminal. As a result, the Panama Canal incurred a loss of more than $40,000 in tolls for this transit.
The Canal's focus on the future is not only limited to addressing current challenges, but also includes proactive environmental initiatives. Efforts are being made to safeguard the water basin, preserve forest cover, and explore the possibility of developing a logistics corridor to diversify cargo handling options within the country.
Moreover, the Canal is significantly investing in enhancing its technological capabilities. Administrator Vásquez emphasized the importance of integrating vast hydro-meteorological data and analyzing it on a large scale. This data-driven approach is expected to boost the efficiency and competitiveness of the waterway.
Additionally, human resources are a crucial aspect of the Canal's future. With approximately 2,000 employees nearing retirement, efforts are underway to recruit and train individuals with new skills to meet the evolving needs of the industry.
"We have successfully administered the Canal as Panamanians, expanded the locks, and ensured reliability. Now, in this third stage, as we shape the Canal for the future, we are keen to identify the best opportunities for Panama under the current circumstances," said Administrator Vásquez, outlining the Canal's visionary approach to stay relevant and successful in the years to come.

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@kefthecruiser Thanks for another thorough analysis! It's so true, no one really knows. I hope the water levels rise soon or the area is going to begin to suffer economically from the loss of tourism!

@Tasselhoff Hopefully no delays, but it's a possibility. With fewer ships traveling through the canal, I imagine you don't have much of a delay. Which cruise line will you be cruising with? 

@FJB That would have been nice! I completely agree that there could be other options that could help with long-term water levels. Maybe now that the canal is really starting to have issues, Panama will consider a sustainable fix.

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