PANAMA CITY – The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) celebrated Wednesday’s third anniversary of the inauguration of an expanded waterway while working to boost the number of ships using the channel to pass between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
“We have had some little things that are inherent in any construction of this magnitude, but nothing that has affected transit,” the ACP’s vice president for Transit Business, Ilya Marotta, said in an interview with EFE.
“I think it has been successful, definitely,” the engineer said of the nearly $6 billion expansion.
Marotta, who is set in January to become the deputy administrator of the waterway that handles roughly 6 percent of global trade, oversaw the building of a third set of locks by the GUPC consortium, whose largest component was Spanish construction giant Sacyr Vallehermoso.
The third set of locks was needed to enable the canal to accommodate “New Panamax” ships, which hold up to 13,000 20-foot-long containers and are triple the size of the previous generation of Panamax vessels.
Nearly 6,500 New Panamax ships have transited the canal since the June 26, 2016, opening of the expansion, generating – according to Sacyr- 51 percent of the canal’s toll income over the period.
While container vessels account for just over half of that total, 11.5 percent comprises tankers carrying liquefied natural gas (LNG): an entirely new source of business made possible by the expansion, the ACP said Wednesday.
The ACP will remain focused on making the most of the new locks, “but also the existing ones, because we don’t want everything to go to one side,” Marotta told EFE.
“We already have eight reservations a day, we would like to increase that. The canal’s sustained maximum capacity is around 12 ships a day,” Marotta said, though acknowledging that achieving a dozen transits daily on a regular basis would require “some changes to navigation.”
But the ACP “has demonstrated that the capacity exists” to move 12 vessels through the canal every day, Marotta said.
The United States is the No. 1 user of the Panama Canal, followed by China, until recently, when the Asian giant has reduced its purchases of LNG from the US amid the trade war between Washington and Beijing.
“But we have had the good fortune that that LNG that hasn’t gone to China has been absorbed by countries in Asia. (South) Korea and Japan are absorbing a great part of that LNG and LPG (liquefied petroleum gas),” Marotta said.
Shipments of LNG and LPG “continue passing through the canal, we have not lost relevance,” she said. “It remains to be seen how sustained it is, because demand from those countries (South Korea and Japan) is not as high as from China.”