Expanded Panama Canal Marks One Year Since Opening

MV Valparaiso Express transits the Expanded Canal, June 26, 2017. Photo: Panama Canal Authority

The Panama Canal is marking the one-year anniversary of the inauguration of the new Expanded Canal, describing the milestone as one of the most significant events in the waterway’s 102-year history and a defining moment for the people of Panama and the global maritime industry.

Over the past 12 months, the Expanded Canal’s performance has exceeded what was originally forecast, as global trade routes have been redrawn and its impact has been felt around the world. To date, more than 1,500 Neopanamax vessels have transited the Expanded Canal.

“These transits are a testament to the global maritime industry’s confidence in the Expanded Canal,” said Panama Canal Administrator Jorge L. Quijano. “The countless accomplishments set over the past year have surpassed even our own expectations for the project. We would like to thank everyone involved, from our customers to our highly-skilled employees, for their role in making this year such a great success.”

The Expanded Canal’s first year in operation included a number of notable milestones. On average, 5.9 vessels transit the Expanded Canal per day, surpassing original forecasts of two to three daily transits for the first year of operation.

Of the more than 1,500 transits through the wider locks, containerships have represented approximately 51.3 percent of all traffic, followed by LPG and liquefied natural gas (LNG) carriers, representing approximately 31.5 and 9.1 percent, respectively. Other segments such as bulk carriers, tankers, car carriers and passenger vessels have also transited the Neopanamax Locks.

The LNG carrier Maran Gas Apollonia becomes the first LNG carrier to use the Panama Canal on July 27, 2016. Photo: Panama Canal Authority (ACP)

Another key milestone includes the opening of the Panama Canal to the liquified natural gas (LNG) segment – a first for the waterway. Today, more than 90 percent of the global LNG fleet can now transit the waterway for the first time in history, opening a new market and allowing LNG producers in the United States to ship natural gas to Asia at competitive prices. LPG traffic has also grown exponentially since the inauguration of the Expanded Canal, quickly becoming the second biggest driver of Neopanamax traffic, accounting for 31.5 percent of transiting vessels.

Together, the Panama Canal Authority says, these activities have led to a ripple effect on local and global economies, with positive impacts to the international shipping industry as ports worldwide continue to invest in infrastructure to accommodate the influx in Neopanamax traffic. Investment has been particularly prevalent among U.S. East Coast ports, which have experienced strong growth and broken cargo records, providing a boost to their local economies.

The Expanded Canal has also helped the waterway experience a record-breaking year of its own. Months into its operation, the Panama Canal began reporting both daily and monthly tonnage records thanks to the additional tonnage transported through the Neopanamax Locks.

“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,” said Mr. Quijano. “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.”

With Panama Canal Expansion project now complete, the waterway is now turning to other infrastructure projects planned to provide greater connectivity and transshipment opportunities to the region. Currently, the Panama Canal has plans to concession a roll-on roll-off (RoRo) terminal to serve as a center for the redistribution of vehicles, machinery and heavy equipment; a 1,200-hectares logistics park to further strengthen the logistics services in the region; an LNG terminal on the Atlantic side of the waterway to provide LNG bunkering and redistribution capabilities; and the ACP will continue to advance plans for the Corozal Container Terminal.