by Michael Lowrey
Make no mistake, this is a game changer in transportation, as larger container vessels will now be able to make use of the Panama Canal. Per the Charlotte Observer:
“It’s a big deal for the industry and anyone who’s doing importing and exporting,” said Paul Cozza, executive director at North Carolina State Port Authority. “Transportation is going to be more efficient, (leading to) much more international business.”
To put it into perspective, the biggest type of ship that could currently pass through the canal – called Panamax – holds 4,500 20-foot units. This is the largest ship that calls at the Port of Wilmington. The new ships will carry 8,000 to 10,000 of these units, and the Wilmington enhancements are designed to accommodate those.
Sixty percent of container cargo business in North Carolina ports transits the Panama Canal, according to communications manager Cliff Pyron. So the port authority is investing more than $100 million in modernization efforts.
Reuters provides this analysis:
The Panama Canal Authority estimates that the enlarged waterway will cut sailing times between Atlantic Ocean ports and Asia by up to 16 days for ships that previously could not fit through.
Soybean farmers, natural gas producers, container shippers, and coal miners hope to be among the winners when the expanded Panama Canal is inaugurated on Sunday at a cost of $5.2 billion and after a two-year delay. Crude oil and iron ore exporters will see less benefit as they still depend on vessels too big for the waterway.
Other potential losers include railroads though many East Coast ports aren’t ready yet to fully accommodate the bigger ships.