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PANAMA CITY: The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) says the El Niño climate phenomenon has led to a drought in the Canal Watershed, causing the water levels of Gatun and Alhajuela Lakes to fall substantially.

As a result, the ACP has set a maximum draft for all shipping using the Canal of 11.89 meters (39.0 feet) effective September 8, 2015.

panama canal lockThe advisory is likely to hit only 18.5 percent of vessels transiting the Canal. The ACP adds that based on current information, the draft may be further reduced to 11.73 meters (38.5 feet) starting September 16, 2015. The last time this happened was in 1997-1998.

The ACP has also announced that its main contractor for the Canal's third set of locks, Grupo Unidos por el Canal (GUPC), and the Trade Union of Construction Workers and Similar (SUNTRACS), have avoided a strike.

SUNTRACS workers wanted an 8.9 percent salary increase from July following an 11 percent increase in May 2014. GUPC said last year's increase was meant to cover the remainder of the construction project – currently 93 percent complete – and appealed to the ACP to help in the negotiations.

The ACP responded saying: "Although the ultimate owner of the project, [it] is in no way responsible for labor issues arising from any failure on the part of GUPC to meet labor demands by its subcontractors."

Declaring the ACP's "intransigent and negative" attitude made it impossible to reach deal, GUPC announced it would make "an additional financial sacrifice" and agreed to pay a further US$4.81 an hour for qualified workers and five percent for "other categories".

toucumen airport panamaOn July 10, GUPC announced it had reached an agreement "on good terms" with SUNTRACS members with no help from the ACP "despite being the owner of the project and with a wide knowledge of the financial commitments that GUPC has had to assume."

Meanwhile, Emirates Airline has announced it is to begin the world's longest non-stop scheduled service to Tocumen International Airport, Panama City (left) in February next year.

The 17.5-hour daily flight with a B777-200LR will be able to carry up to 15 tonnes of freight and is EK's first service to Central America.

"It is gratifying to see how diplomatic efforts focused on generating development and prosperity for Panama materialize," said Isabel Saint Malo de Alvarado, Panama's vice president. "New doors to the country will open with a direct connection to the Middle East - a strong and thriving region with great synergies to both Panama and Latin America."

Later this year, Emirates will be adding four additional routes to its global network including Mashhad, Iran and Orlando in September; Bamako, Mali in October; and Bologna in November.

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