The Panama Canal expansion, through the construction of two new lock complexes on the Atlantic and Pacific
sides of the canal, will allow passage of a class of larger
ships and tacks on 12 to 14 more vessels of that size that
will move through the canal every day, according to the
“Panama Canal Expansion Study Phase I Report:
Developments in Trade and National and Global
Economies” released by MARAD in November 2013.
Jaenichen said MARAD is expected to release the
final portion of the study at the end of this year.
The larger vessels will combine with the smaller container ships using the existing locks today and carry
roughly 5,000 TEUs. The sum of vessels and their volume bring Panama Canal throughput capacity upon
completion of the expansion project from 300 million
PCUM (Panama Canal Universal Measurement System)
tons to 600 million PCUM tons, the MARAD study said.
About 20 U.S. ports could be affected by the Panama
Canal expansion, and the U.S. trade expects to see
more concentrated U.S. port calls as a result of larger
ships, especially for vessel deployments serving the
Northeast Asia-U.S. East and Gulf Coast trade, according to the MARAD study.
While West Coast ports are generally capable of
handling deeper-draft post-Panamax vessels, the Army
Corps has been focused with various authorizations to
work on East Coast port projects, among them deepen-
ing the New York and New Jersey harbor to 50 feet,
“It is not only the channel deep-
ening that needs to be done, but
from a landside perspective and a
port-side perspective, the ports
needs to be able to deepen their
berths to get the ships in, and if
their docks were not designed to
be next to a deeper berth, you can
very well undermine the docks,
and have some stability issue on
their dock,” he said. “In some
cases, they’ve got to go out and put
some dock [faces] on, drive new
pile in deeper to accommodate the
“They’ve got to have the landside
infrastructure and storage. They’ve
got to have the larger post-Panamax
container cranes to be able to reach out across the width
of these large vessels,” he said.
Furthermore, investment needs to occur in the
intermodal connections at the ports, McKee said.
“You need the rail, and you need the highways to get
these commodities out,” he said. “Because if you can’t
get them in and out quickly, the [post-Panamax ves-sels] are going to go elsewhere.”
Still, what remains a big unknown is exactly how
the bigger ships, and what commodities or cargo they
may contain, will call on the nation’s East Coast ports
once they have moved through the expanded canal,
McKee told Seapower.
“We don’t know,” he said. “It is very difficult to tell.”
McKee said the ports fully grasp the various adjustments in portside, shoreside, storage, and intermodal
improvements and preparedness that are required of
them, but the ports are not necessarily going to get the
vessels. Even with rising demand and trade volumes, the
larger vessels will not want to sit in a port waiting to get
goods offloaded or loaded, he said.
The Port of Houston, one of the nation’s largest ports, is well positioned to
receive post-Panamax vessels. The port has tripled the design capacity of its
container yards with the buildout of the Bayport container facility, shown here,
as well as improved access to road and rail hubs in the region.