Panama Canal to impose surcharge after fifth driest year in seven decades | World News


The Panama Canal will begin collecting a surcharge from ships after the surrounding watershed had its fifth driest year in seven decades.

Canal administrator Ricaurte Vasquez has warned climate change is a threat to the canal’s operations.

The Panama Canal Authority presented its annual report last week, highlighting that 2019 was one of the watershed’s lowest rain years in many decades, about 20% below the historical average.

The watershed, a system of rivers and brooks that feeds lakes, is key to canal operations and also supplies freshwater to Panama City, home to about half the country’s population of four million.

Mr Vasquez said the new measure aims to protect the supply of freshwater for shipping activity and human consumption.

He said it was not an easy decision but would “guarantee the availability of water and the reliability of the (canal) route”.

Ships using the waterway, which connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, will have to pay a fee from 15 February.

It has no expiration date.

It applies to all ships over 125ft (38m) and consists of a fixed charge of $10,000 (£7,700) per passage plus another variable charge that will depend on water levels at Lake Gatun at the time of the crossing.

Mr Vasquez said: “The level of the surcharge drops when the level of the lake is at full capacity.”

Authorities have not yet determined whether drafting restrictions on vessels, which were implemented in 2019 due to low levels at Lake Gatun, will be necessary this year.

The lack of rainfall over Panama comes after drought cut the Victoria Falls waterfall in Zambia to its lowest level in 25 years.

The president of Zambia warned the risk of losing natural wonders like the falls if action isn’t taken soon on climate change.


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