Panama Canal Records Third-Highest Annual Cargo Tonnage

At the close of the 2016 fiscal year (FY16), the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) recorded the third-highest annual tonnage in its history, handling 330.7 million Panama Canal tons (PC/UMS).

A total of 13,114 vessels transited the Panama Canal during the fiscal period from October 1, 2015 to September 30, 2016. Of these, 238 were Neopanamax vessels that took advantage of the newly opened Expanded Canal during the first three months of its operation, accounting for 18.2 million PC/UMS.

“Despite the international shipping downturn this past year, we recorded one of the highest annual tonnage figures since the opening of the original Canal 102 years ago,” said Panama Canal Administrator, Jorge L. Quijano. “This latest success reinforces the continued strategic importance of the route and the growing value that recent investments in the Canal will bring to the maritime industry.”

The Cosco Shipping, the first ship to cross the third set of lock.

The Cosco Shipping, the first ship to cross the third set of lock.

Expanded Panama Canal Inauguration

The past fiscal year saw a number of important milestones for the Panama Canal, the most significant of which was the June 26, 2016, inauguration of the Expanded Canal. A crowd of more than 30,000 Panamanians, Canal employees, heads of state and dignitaries, Canal customers, and shipping and trade executives gathered to witness the first transit of a Neopanamax vessel, the COSCO Shipping Panama, through the new lane that doubles the Canal’s cargo capacity. The event represented the culmination of more than nine years of construction and a renewed commitment by the Panama Canal to provide the maritime industry with the safest, most reliable and efficient service possible.

Since opening, the Expanded Canal has seen major liners redirect service to the waterway to take advantage of the route’s significant time savings. Thus far, nine Neopanamax liner services have been deployed through the new locks, primarily on the U.S. East Coast to Asia trade route. Next month, an additional Neopanamax liner service is expected to follow suit, further demonstrating the benefits provided by the new waterway.

Performance by Segment

Analysis shows that the container segment continued to be the leading source of Canal traffic, accounting for more than 36 percent of the total cargo received. In total, container vessels contributed 119.6 million PC/UMS transiting through the waterway, including 13.4 million PC/UMS that passed through the Expanded Canal. The next leading segments by tonnage were bulk carriers (65.6 million PC/UMS), tankers (55.0 million PC/UMS) and vehicle carriers (46.7 million PC/UMS).

Another notable milestone was the introduction of the liquefied natural gas (LNG) segment during the final months of FY16. LNG carriers—which can now transit the waterway due to the Expanded Canal’s wider, longer and deeper locks—contributed 1.5 million PC/UMS and surpassed initial Panama Canal forecasts. The influx was also partially due to the unexpected emergence of U.S. shale production and the lifting of a 40-year-old ban, allowing the country to export oil for the first time in decades.

Other welcome additions in FY16 were the first crude oil shipments to the Canal via Aframax and Suezmax vessels. The ACP did not anticipate this segment to transit so early in the Expanded Canal’s infancy; however, the trend is one that has been received favorably and is expected to continue as the crude oil industry strengthens.

Introduction of a New Toll Structure

In recognition of the increasingly diverse traffic passing through its waterway, the ACP instituted a new toll structure to better meet shippers’ needs and reflect changing cargo patterns.

The new toll structure, which went into effect on April 1, 2016, is tailored further to shippers and their cargo, assigning tolls per the specific type and amount of cargo being transited, as opposed to the more general approach previously utilized.

As part of this restructuring, the Canal established a customer-loyalty program for the container segment that allows frequent customers to receive preferred pricing once they have met a particular volume threshold, providing further cost-incentives to shippers who regularly take advantage of the route.

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