The Post-Panamax’s Are Coming: U.S. Explores Options

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June 21, 2012

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The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) on Wednesday submitted to Congress it’s awaited “U.S. Port and Inland Waterways Modernization” report as the U.S. prepares for an increase in post-panamax vessels.  “Preparing for Post-Panamax Vessels”, as the report is titled”, set out to identify capacity maintenance and expansion issues associated with the deployment of post-Panamax vessels serving U.S. ports and examines options for modernization of U.S. ports and inland waterways over the next 30 years.

Specifically, the report, which was produced by USACE’s Institute for Water Resources (IWR) department, tackled “how Congress should address the critical need for additional port and inland waterways modernization to accommodate post-Panamax vessels.”

With World and U.S. trade expected to continue to grow over the next 30 years, the study found that U.S. imports can be expected to quadruple with exports estimated to grow sevenfold.  With this growth, USACE estimates that the post-panamax vessel fleet will grow to account for 62% of the capacity of the world’s total container capacity.

“Post-Panamax vessels today make up 16 percent of the world’s container fleet, but account for 45 percent of the fleet’s capacity,” said Maj. Gen. Michael J. Walsh, USACE deputy commanding general for Civil Works and Emergency Operations. “Those numbers are projected to grow significantly over the next 20 years.”

With an increasing number of these vessels calling on the U.S., ports around the country will be forced to accommodate them.  In the study, USACE has identified Southeast and Gulf coast ports as prime candidates for future “economically justified” expansion projects based on evaluation of population growth trends and individuay port needs.

The report also forecasts that the potential transportation cost savings of using post-Panamax vessels, especially for shipping agricultural products to Asia through the Panama Canal, will lead to an increase in grain traffic on the Mississippi River for export at Gulf ports.  Should this happen, the report found that the current capacity of the Mississippi River is adequate provided certain inland waterways serving the agricultural export markets are maintained.

In all, USACE estimates that total investment opportunities may be in the $3-$5 billion range.

“The United States is a maritime nation,” continued Major General Walsh. “This report provides to Congress and the public an analysis of the challenges and opportunities presented by the post-Panamax vessels, and outlines options on how the nation might address the port and inland waterway infrastructure needs required to accommodate these new vessels.”

For more information, read: U.S. Port and Inland Waterways Modernization: Preparing for Post-Panamax Vessels

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