Following the close of its 2017 fiscal year (FY17), the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) announced that the waterway welcomed a record 403.8 million Panama Canal tons (PC/UMS) of cargo in FY17, the largest amount of annual tonnage ever transited in its 103-year history. The 22.2% increase from the previous year can be directly attributed to the added capacity provided by the expanded canal, ACP said.
According to figures, the Panama Canal transited a total of 13,548 vessels during FY17, representing a 3.3% increase compared to totals the year before, but it was the expanded canal’s ability to transit larger Neopanamax vessels that translated into the 22.2% increase in total annual tonnage from fiscal 2016 and helped the Panama Canal surpass the already ambitious cargo projection of reaching 399 million PC/UMS.
“This year’s success is a testament to the expanded canal’s success,” ACP administrator Jorge Quijano said. “These record figures reflect not only the industry’s confidence in the expanded canal but also illustrate the Panama Canal’s continued ability to transform the global economy and revitalize the maritime industry.”
To streamline logistics paperwork for international customers, the canal, along with other Panamanian bodies, launched Panama’s Maritime Single Window in September 2017. The canal has also instituted modifications to the toll structure in response to a series of discussions with customers and a review of changing cargo patterns.
The Panama Canal currently serves 29 major liner services, including 15 Neopanamax liner services, primarily on the U.S. East Coast-to-Asia trade route.
Beyond Panama, the impact of the canal has been felt around the world, ACP noted.
In FY17, the main routes using the Panama Canal were between Asia and the U.S. East Coast (34%), the west coast of South America and the U.S. East Coast (13%), the west coast of South America and Europe (7%), the west coast of Central America and the U.S. East Coast (7%) and intercoastal South America (5%).
China, Chile, Japan, Mexico and Colombia were some of the top users of the Panama Canal, while the U.S. continued to be the main user of the waterway, representing the origin of or destination for 68.3% of the total cargo transiting the canal.
The impact of the expanded Panama Canal was also apparent in many ports along the U.S. East Coast, which were able to welcome the larger Neopanamax ships from the canal and saw increased growth. Some even set records in terms of their year-over-year growth and the total amount of tonnage received – all of which can be directly attributed to the widening of the Panama Canal.
Other ports recently completed, or are continuing to advance, a number of infrastructure projects that allow them to receive Neopanamax ships as well.
Positioning for the future
As the shipping industry continues to adapt to the expanded canal, ACP is working to bolster the capabilities of the waterway through various infrastructure projects aimed at providing greater connectivity and transshipment opportunities to the region. Specifically, the Panama Canal maintains plans to concession a roll-on/roll-off terminal to serve as a center for the redistribution of vehicles, machinery and heavy equipment and a 1,200-hectares logistics park to further strengthen the logistics services in the region, among other projects.
“We look forward to maintaining our partnership with customers to deliver the same safe and efficient service for the next year ahead,” Quijano said. “Through our innovative and reliable practices, we continue to position Panama as the logistics hub of the Americas.”