Post-Panamax ships and the Panama Canal


By Juan Carlos Martinez

One of the fundamental reasons for which the Panama Canal is currently engaged in an expansion project costing billions of dollars, is the number of post-panamax vessels that sail the seas today. For the Panama Canal Authority it is a matter of being and remaining competitive in today's market. Since the 90's seeking greater economies of scale as world commerce grew, post-panamax vessels became a viable option. For a long time shipbuilders were limited by the Panamax size which was the largest vessel that could cross the Canal. In the 90's world commerce and maritime trade grew significantly and new options that could transport greater volumes of merchandise became necessary in order to lower costs therefore shipbuilders and shipping companies started building post-panamax vessels.

Currently the Panama Canal can only handle vessels with a maximum length of 294.1 meters, breadth of 32.3 meters and a depth of 12.04 meters. In view of this the shipping line, American President Line (APL), developed a new transport network that did not use the Panama Canal, thereby allowing them to use develop post-panamax vessels.

The first post-panamax was the Regina Maersk with an official capacity of 6,400 TEUs and today there are vessels with an approximate capacity of 9,000 TEUs. The development of post-panamax vessels has been so rapid that they now comprise 30% of the world fleet. Manzanillo International Terminal's general manager, Carlos Urriola indicated in a recent media interview that today all shipping lines are ordering post-panamax vessels from 6,000 TEUs to 18,000 TEUs. However today, only vessels up to 4,000 maybe 5,000 TEUs can transit through the Canal. What this means for the Panama Canal is that Panamanians made the right choice when through a referendum they approved the Panama Canal Expansion. In spite of the fact that post-panamax vessels are more and more prevalent the Panama Canal will have completed its expansion in time to seize this opportunity and maintain its relevance in maritime trade.

As a secondary investment vehicle the private sector has entered the picture. They are investments in infrastructure that the current port terminals in Panama must make in order to provide services to these mega-vessels and capitalize as well on the Canal expansion. In terms of MIT they need to dredge the access channels, expand the maneuver docks and equip the piers with the gear necessary to provide service to these vessels.



Copyright© 2011, Pan Am Publishing S.A., Republic of Panama