Panama Canal Copyright Francis Tsang, Getty Images

Panama Canal Suspends Plans to Limit Ships' Cargo Size

Recent rainfall has increased water levels in the Panama Canal, although the levels remain below normal, officials say.

PANAMA CITY, Panama - The Panama Canal is suspending plans to limit ships' cargo size in response to a drought, after recent rainfall increased water levels, officials said Friday.

Three weeks ago, the Panama Canal Authority announced plans to cut ships' maximum draft from the usual 12.04 meters (39.5 feet) to 11.89 meters, starting on Sept. 8.

It said a drought caused by the El Nino weather phenomenon was reducing the depth of the waterway.

A ship's draft is its depth in the water, and changes as the vessel becomes heavier or lighter.

While water levels in the canal have still not returned to normal, the rains "have made it possible to suspend the restrictions," the authority said.

The limit would have affected 18.5% of the ships that normally use the canal, which handles about 5% of global maritime trade.

This year has been the driest in 102 years in Panama.

The 80-kilometer (50-mile) canal from the Atlantic to the Pacific turned a century old last year.

Panama is undertaking an ambitious upgrade to enable the waterway to handle modern mega-ships.

But the project, initially scheduled for completion last year, is now only expected to be ready in April 2016, and has overrun its initial $5.25 billion budget.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2015

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