Less than nine months after the historic inauguration of the Expanded Canal, the Panama Canal announced that it has welcomed its 1,000th Neo-panamax vessel through the waterway, highlighting the importance of the route and customers’ continued faith in the safe, reliable and efficient service the Canal provides.
On Sunday, March 19, the containership Mediterranean Shipping Company’s MSC Anzu made the historic 1,000th transit through the Expanded Canal, heading northbound from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean. Built in 2015, the Panama-flagged containership measures 299.98 meters in length and 48.23 meters in beam with a carrying capacity of 9,008 TEUs. During its transit, the ship called at Panamanian port terminals on the Pacific and Atlantic to discharge and load cargo on the way to its final destinations. The container ship is part of the SAWC-USA-NWC service between Europe, the United States and the South America West Coast that was consolidated last year to take advantage of the Expanded Panama Canal.
“Today’s transit represents a considerable milestone, marking the industry’s strong adoption of the Expanded Canal and its successful operations thus far,” said Panama Canal Administrator Jorge L. Quijano.
MARKET SEGMENTS USING EXPANDED CANAL
The 1000th transit marks a significant milestone for the Expanded Canal, which is experiencing a steady flow of traffic – including containerships, liquid petroleum gas vessels, and liquefied natural gas (LNG) vessels. Other segments like dry bulk carriers, vehicle carriers, and crude product tankers have also transited through the Expanded Canal.
The container segment accounts for nearly half the transits through the Expanded Canal and represents its principal source of traffic. Fifty-three percent of containership cargo transiting the waterway does so using the Expanded Canal. LNG vessels began transiting the waterway last July for the first time after the Canal opened trade possibilities for this new market segment. So far, 5.2 LNG vessels have transited the Canal per week on average, above the original forecast of one weekly transit.
As of March 2017, the average number of Neo-panamax vessels transiting the new lane per day is 5.9.
Traffic at the waterway continues to increase with each passing month, as does the Canal’s impact. In February 2017, the Panama Canal set a new daily tonnage record of 1.18 million Panama Canal tons (PC/UMS) after welcoming a total of 1,180 vessels through both the Expanded and original locks. The previous records were established in December 2016 and January 2017, when the waterway set monthly tonnage records for transiting 35.4 million PC/UMS and 36.1 million PC/UMS, respectively.
“Although the full impact will be felt gradually over time, we’re very encouraged by the success of the Expanded Canal thus far as trade patterns continue to shift in favor of the route,” said Panama Canal’s Executive Vice President of Planning and Business Development, Oscar Bazan.
Many major liner services have already redirected service to the waterway to take advantage of the economies of scale the waterway provides. Thus far, 13 Neo-panamax liner services have been deployed through the new locks, primarily on the U.S. East Coast to Asia trade route. And on April 1, two additional Neo-panamax liner services are expected to follow, bringing the total liner services to 15 – further demonstrating the benefits of the waterway.
In addition, ports around the world, and in particular along the U.S. East Coast, have already expanded or are in the process of deepening and widening their channels to accommodate the influx of Neo-panamax vessel traffic due to the Expansion. Many of these ports have similarly witnessed record tonnage months, including the Ports of Charleston, Philadelphia and Savannah, which experienced record container volume growths in January of this year.
FOSTERING A LEGACY OF INNOVATION
As the shipping industry adapts to keep pace with the effects of the Expansion, the Panama Canal itself has continued to innovate, just as it has for the past 102 years. This week the Canal announced plans to launch a state-of-the-art vessel scheduling and maritime resource management system to optimize operations, uphold exemplary safety standards, and increase the efficiency and reliability of services as it handles this uptick in traffic.
“As we look ahead, the future of the Panama Canal is as bright as ever,” said Panama Canal Administrator Jorge L. Quijano. “Although the Expansion was our largest undertaking since the original Canal was constructed, this is merely the first step in bolstering the capabilities of the waterway and the logistics offerings in the country, for our customers and the people of Panama.”