The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) estimates that the combined effect of 12 to 14 larger Panamax vessels per day (an average of approximately 4,750 ships a year) combined with continued smaller vessel transits will double capacity, increasing canal throughput from 300 million tons to 600 million tons PCUMS (Panama Canal Universal Measuring System), according to a shipping risk management briefing from Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty. PCUMS is the basis upon which vessels are charged for use of the Canal: one PCUMS ton is approximately 100 cubic feet of cargo space. A twenty foot long container (teu) is equivalent to approximately 13 PCUMS tons.
The Panama Canal’s $5.25 billion expansion increases the maximum vessel capacity and enlarges the overall volume of transported freight. Existing locks can handle ships up to 106 feet wide, 965 feet long, and 39.5 feet of draft. The new locks will accommodate vessels up to 160 feet wide, 1,200 feet long, and 50 feet deep. Container ship capacities will increase from 4,400 to about 13,000 teus. The new locks create a third lane of traffic for larger “New Panamax” vessels. “The expansion is significant because it impacts the size and frequency of vessels that call on the US East and Gulf Coast ports,” says Andrew Kinsey, senior marine risk consultant, AGCS. “These vessels presently have to use the Suez Canal coming to the US from Asia.”
“The value of insured goods transported will increase with the expanded Canal, as will the risk accumulation,” Kinsey explained. “This is the reason why proactive loss controls will continue to be needed; including tracking of the risk accumulation. This is one of the biggest lessons learned from the Tianjin explosion in China last year.”
In particular, the New Panamax ships, which are as long as four football fields, will be impacted. For example, a fully-loaded 12,600 teu container ship could have an average insured cargo value of $250 million, based on an average value of $20,000 per teu. With the cargo-carrying capacity of ships transiting the Canal having the potential to double following expansion, it can approximately assumed this could result in an additional $1.25 billion in insured goods passing through the Canal in just one given day.
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