The expansion of the Panama Canal made world headlines when it opened one year ago, and now officials have released the a report card on the new Canal’s initial performance.
“The Expanded Panama Canal has continually set records and surpassed expectations,” the Panama Canal Authority reported in a statement released this week. The result has been “redrawn global trade routes and positive worldwide impact, as the Canal looks to further position Panama as the logistics hub of the Americas.”
Those are bold statements, but the Canal Authority has the numbers to back it up. More than 1,500 Neopanamax ships—the largest cargo ships—have passed through the expanded Canal, helping boost the annual tonnage by 22.2 percent in the last fiscal year, the Authority reports. Fifteen of 29 liner services using the Panama Canal now employ Neopanamax vessels “to take advantage of the economies of scale offered by the Expanded Canal,” primarily connecting ports in Asia and the East Coast of the United States, the Authority says.
According to the Office of the Comptroller General of the Republic, toll revenues were up 17.7 percent in the first quarter of 2017. That translates to more money for Panama, helping to fund billions of dollars in infrastructure projects around the country.
One of the biggest drivers for the Canal’s boost in traffic is the growth of liquefied natural gas traffic, which is “the second biggest driver of Neopanamax traffic, accounting for 31.5 percent of transiting vessels,” according to the Authority release. The Canal is “opening a new market and allowing LNG producers in the United States to ship natural gas to Asia at competitive prices,” the Authority says.
“These transits are a testament to the global maritime industry’s confidence in the Expanded Canal,” Panama Canal administrator Jorge L. Quijano said in a statement. “The countless accomplishments set over the past year have surpassed even our own expectations for the project.”
The volume of traffic has even led to speculation that another set of locks may be needed in the near future.
Meanwhile, the Canal Authority is moving forward with a wide range of infrastructure projects to boost the expanded Canal. Those plans include a roll-on roll-off (RoRo) terminal for vehicles and heavy machinery; a 1,200-hectares logistics park; an LNG terminal on the Atlantic side of the waterway; and continued plans for the Corozal Container Terminal.
“Today’s milestone provides us with an opportunity to reflect on the Canal’s strong performance to-date and the industry’s wide-spread adoption of the waterway,” Panama Canal administrator Jorge L. Quijano said. “Looking forward, the next decade will serve as a significant next chapter in the Panama Canal’s story as we continue to advance various infrastructure projects within the region to further position Panama as the logistics hub of the Americas-for the benefit of our customers, and for the people of Panama.”