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article imagePanama Canal to limit ship size due to drought caused by El Niño

By Megan Hamilton     Aug 10, 2015 in Environment
Panama City - A drought triggered by an El Niño is prompting the Panama Canal Authority to place restrictions on the size of ships allowed through the famed canal.
Beginning Sept. 8, the maximum draft (depth in the water) will be cut to 39ft. (11.89m).
This may affect up to 20 percent of traffic, BBC News reports.
This isn't the first time restrictions have been placed on ship size; a similar event occurred in 1998.
Also, if the situation doesn't improve by Sept. 16, a further cut may be imposed, authorities say.
Water levels in the Gatun and Alhajuela lakes that are associated with the canal have dropped as a result of the El Niño event and if there are still problems, ship size may be reduced to 38.5ft on Sept. 16.
Shipping companies were alerted that the cuts could be coming.
Canal administrator Jorge Quijano notes that June and the first half of July are the driest periods that have been recorded in the last 102 years, DW reports. The Panama Canal Authority says this will affect about five or six of the 36 ships that traverse the waterway daily.
The history of this famous canal is fascinating, but some parts of that history are tragic as well, Panama Canal Facts reports.
It is believed that the first attempts to construct the canal began in 1880, when the French diplomat Ferdinand de Lesseps, encouraged by the success of the Suez Canal, began construction on January 1, 1880. The construction of the canal was fraught with perils, especially with tropical diseases like yellow fever and malaria claiming as many as 22,000 workers between 1881 and 1889. Earthquakes were another peril. The construction of the canal was also plagued with many logistical failures and the French threw in the towel on any further construction in 1899.
Then, in 1904, the U.S. stepped in, and an additional 5,600 people died in that effort as well.
With the efforts of steam shovels, dynamite, locomotives and more than 40,000 people, the canal was informally opened on Aug. 15, 1914. Formal dedication of the canal took place on 1920.
Each year, some 12,000 to 15,000 ships traverse the 436 mile Canal Zone, and out of that number, about 40 ships make the trip each day over the length of the 51 mile canal, which is 10 miles wide. It takes an estimated eight to 10 hours to traverse the 436 square mile canal, Panama Canal Facts reports.
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