U.S. PORTS PLAN AHEAD
EXPECT MORE TRAFFIC, BIGGER SHIPS
WITH PANAMA CANAL EXPANSION
BY JOHN C. MARCARIO, Assistant Editor
Planning for the Future
foot-equivalent units (TEU) to
Although there are not a large
number of 10,000 TEU-plus containerized ships in business today,
Sabonge said that could change
quickly once the canal expansion
“The move to a larger vessel,
assuming the demand is there, will
happen immediately. Now, if you
have another economic crisis, that
could change things, but under
normal conditions we will see an
immediate change from smaller to
larger vessels,” he said.
A majority of U.S. ports currently cannot handle
ships with a capacity of more than 8,000 TEU, which
has sparked expansion plans by some who want the possible benefits of additional commerce flowing through
the canal and into the states.
“The expansion’s impact on the U.S. will depend on
two things. The first is the capability of the ports to
handle the larger vessels and the second is the connectivity that’s existing, or not existing, inland, because
you need to be able to move the cargo from the port to
the given destination,” Sabonge said.
The expansion of the Panama Canal will be good for
U.S. ports because it allows shippers to move goods less
expensively and it will increase competition, said Aaron
Ellis, director of communications with American
Association of Port Authorities, Alexandria, Va.
“The Panama Canal is positioning itself to begin
accepting the larger ships in 2014, and the burden of
upgrading port infrastructure then shifts both to the
East and Gulf Coast, where the race has been intensifying in recent months. The first port authority that
can handle the new Panamax requirements [ 13,000
TEU] is going to have a substantial advantage over its
competitors,” Ellis said.
Ports across the United States expect an increase in traffic once
the Panama Canal expansion is completed in 2014.
■ The expansion will increase the capacity of container ships that
can travel through the canal from 4,400 twenty-foot-equivalent
units (TEU) to 13,000 TEU.
■ A majority of U.S. ports currently cannot handle ships with
more than 8,000 TEU.
■ The top 13 busiest U.S. ports plan to spend a combined $8.57
billion on terminal and dredging projects in the next five years.
The Panama Canal expansion project has prompted major U.S. ports to spend billions of dollars on renovation projects as they anticipate having to accommodate increased traffic and
bigger ships. Maritime experts are calling the expansion project a game-changer that will spark more competition among U.S. ports and shipping companies.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that
commerce flowing through U.S. ports will double or
triple by 2030 as a result of the expansion, which is
slated to finish in late 2014.
“Not all of the [U.S.] ports are going to be able to
receive the larger ships, and if you’re going to be in the
game you need to have adequate facilities. The ports
that can handle those larger vessels are going to become
the load centers for the United States,” said Rodolfo
Sabonge, vice president of market research and analysis
with the Panama Canal Authority office in Miami.
Once the estimated $5.25 billion canal expansion —
which began in 2007 and includes construction of two
new lock complexes, excavation of access channels, and
widening and deepening of navigation channels — is
completed, the size of container ships that can travel
through it will increase from a maximum of 4,400 twenty-