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Panama Canal cuts down slots for ships due to droughts

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Any vessel over 38m long will be charged US$10,000, along with a variable surcharge based on the level of Gatun Lake.

Panama City

THE Panama Canal will cut its daily slot reservations due to droughts, and impose a "freshwater" charge on ships to maintain the thoroughfare's levels, the authorities said on Monday, tightening access to one of the world's most important trading routes.

Canal administrator Ricaurte Vasquez told a news conference that from Feb 15, a fixed charge would be set at US$10,000 for any vessel over 38m long, as well as a variable surcharge based on the level of Gatun Lake at time of transit.

He added that the short-term measure was needed to tackle the impact of climate change. Daily reservations would be reduced to 27 from 32, he said.

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The canal authority said the measures were being imposed due to a lack of rainfall, which has negatively affected the supply of water from Gatun Lake, a major part of the waterway.

If water levels on the lake improve, the charge could be lowered. Millions of dollars need to be spent to guarantee the water supply to the canal, Dr Vasquez said.

Local rainfall was 20 per cent below the historical average last year, making 2019 the fifth-driest year in seven decades. REUTERS