American Shipper

Neopanamax vessels account for small share of Panama Canal traffic

Bigger vessels that can fit through the expanded section of the Panama Canal represent a small portion of the total traffic so far, but the new locks have only been open for less than four months.

   Two hundred and thirty-eight Neopanamax vessels transited the expanded portion of the Panama Canal during its first three months of operation, the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) said Wednesday.
   Nine Neopanamax liner services are now being deployed through the new locks, primarily on the U.S. East Coast to Asia trade lane, and ACP said an additional Neopanamax liner service is expected to follow suit next month.
   The ACP defines Neopanamax vessels as those bigger than 5,000 TEUs that couldn’t fit through the legacy locks, but other industry officials stick by the term post-Panamax for vessels up to 10,000 TEUs and say Neo-Panamax vessels are in the 10,000-14,000-TEU range. Ships of that size are expected to begin transiting the Canal by the end of the year.
   For the fiscal year ending Sept. 30, a total of 13,144 vessels transited the waterway, carrying 330.7 million Panama Canal tons (PC/UMS) – the third highest annual tonnage in its history.
   “Despite the international shipping downturn this past year, we recorded one of the highest annual tonnage figures since the opening of the original canal 102 years ago,” ACP Administrator Jorge L. Quijano said in a statement. “This latest success reinforces the continued strategic importance of the route and the growing value that recent investments in the canal will bring to the maritime industry.”
   The container segment was again the largest business segment for the canal, with container vessels accounting for more than 36 percent of total traffic (119.6 million PC/UMS).
   The Canal’s universal measurement system for tonnage is based on a mathematical formula to calculate a vessel’s total volume rather than by measuring the actual weight of the cargo.
   The next largest segment by tonnage was bulk, followed by liquid tankers and vehicle carriers.
   Another milestone was the introduction of the liquefied natural gas (LNG) segment during the final months of fiscal year 2016. LNG carriers – which can now transit the waterway due to the expanded canal’s wider, longer and deeper locks – contributed 1.5 million PC/UMS and surpassed initial Panama Canal forecasts. The influx was also partially due to the unexpected emergence of U.S. shale production and the lifting of a 40-year-old ban, allowing the country to export oil for the first time in decades.
   Officials say feeder vessel deployments will impact future demand for the expanded Panama Canal.