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Panama Canal Expansion – Boon to Business, speeding shipping for Gulf and Eastern U.S. Ports

Just over one year after the opening of the expanded third lane of the Panama Canal, officials at U.S. Gulf and East Coast ports say the expansion is contributing to surging container volumes.

It’s a boon to business. It speeds shipping. And it significantly cuts shipping costs and CO2 emissions. The recent Panama Canal expansion has shippers and environmentalists breathing a sigh of relief as container volumes rise and pollutants decline.

Courtesy of the Panama Canal Authority

Courtesy of the Panama Canal Authority

Saying Good-Bye to the Big Runaround

Before the Panama Canal’s expansion, vessels passing through the canal were limited to capacities significantly below 5,000 TEU. Larger container ships were forced to travel west and circumnavigate Africa’s southern tip. The longer route added cost, time and far higher levels of CO2 emissions. Thanks to the canal’s expansion, ships with a capacity of 14,000 TEU (20-foot standard containers) can now take an easterly route across the Pacific, through the Panama Canal, and on to New York and other eastern U.S. ports. The Panama Canal Authority recently calculated that by having to round the Cape of Good Hope, a larger vessel would emit nearly 30,000 tons of additional carbon dioxide. The agency estimates that the recent expansion helped reduce as much as 17 million metric tons of CO2 in the first year alone.

Georgia Ports Authority: Elated over Expansion

The Georgia Ports Authority notes that the expanded Panama Canal has allowed the Port of Savannah to move more cargo than ever before. Savannah’s containerized trade jumped by nearly 10 percent during the first quarter of 2017. The port now receives larger vessels and completes larger cargo exchanges, even on ‘mid-sized’ vessels in the 8,000- and 9,000-TEU range. Average vessel size has risen as much as 20 percent.

South Carolina Ports Authority: Bigger Ships, More Volume

The expanded Panama Canal has also been a boon to the Port of Charleston, a five-terminal seaport that handles cargo containers as well as motor vehicles, non-containerized goods, and bulk cargo. The South Carolina Ports Authority notes that a number of weekly vessel services have been upsized with big ships. The port recently set a fiscal year record with 2.14 million TEUs. Loaded TEU volumes for the port’s Asia trade rose by 26 percent from fiscal year 2016 (549,797 TEUs) to fiscal 2017 (695,149 TEUs).

Port of Baltimore: 10 percent Jump in Business

The Maryland Port Administration notes that the canal’s expansion is responsible for a 10 percent increase in container business over the past year. One of four East Coast ports with the infrastructure to accommodate the world’s largest containerships, cargo leaving the Port of Baltimore can now reach two-thirds of the nation’s population within a 24-hour drive.

Port of Virginia: TEU Volumes Up, New Locks Help Trade

The Panama Canal expansion has helped the Port of Virginia boost overall TEU volumes by 7.3 percent and raise rail volume by 11 percent. Spokesmen for the port noted that the Panama Canal’s new locks continue to improve trade at the Port of Virginia and the U.S. East Coast.

Port of Halifax: Throughput Up 17 Percent

In the Canadian province of Nova Scotia, the Panama Canal’s expansion has helped the Port of Halifax achieve a 15 percent year-over-year increase in container throughput in 2016, climbing to a 17 percent growth in the first half of this year. The Halifax Port Authority notes that the Port of Halifax is one of the few container ports along the East Coast of North America that can berth and service vessels over 10,000 TEUs.

Volumes Rise in West Coast Ports Too

Fears that an increase in East Coast port traffic would come at the expense of West Coast ports have proved to be unfounded. In fact, Los Angeles and Long Beach, the largest and busiest ports in North America, reported a significant jump in container volumes for the first half of this year—8.4 percent at Los Angeles and 5.1 percent at Long Beach. Similarly, the Port of Vancouver in British Columbia saw TEU volumes rise 9.6 percent year-over-year for the first half of 2017. Even Seattle and Tacoma witnessed cargo volumes jump 5 percent over the first half of 2016.

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