On 26th June 2016, a landmark development for the shipping industry will occur with the opening of the new third set of locks at the Panama Canal. Around ten years in the making, the expansion will enable significantly larger ships to transit the Canal, which is likely to have a wide and significant range of implications across a number of shipping sectors.

Beam Me Through, Scotty!

Since opening in 1914, the Panama Canal has provided a key point of transit between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Nearly 14,000 transits of the canal were recorded last fiscal year, carrying around 230mt of cargo. While this accounts for just 2% of total global seaborne trade, the canal is a key shipping lane for a number of vessel segments and cargo flows.

At a macro level, vessel upsizing trends over recent decades have significantly increased the number of ships that are too large to transit the canal. On the 20th June 2016, more than half (55%) of total dwt capacity in the world fleet was accounted for by ships too large to transit the canal. The new, larger locks will enable many additional vessels to transit, as the maximum permissible beam will initially be raised to 49m, up from 32.3m at the old locks, while the maximum LOA and draft at the new locks will be 366m and 15.2m respectively. On the basis of the ‘New Panamax’ dimensions, 79% of dwt tonnage in the world fleet will now be able to officially pass through the canal.

Walk On The Wide Side

The most significant impact of the opening of the new locks will be on the containership sector, which has accounted for around a third of all canal transits and half of the annual toll revenue. More than 1,400 boxships of 12.5m teu (63% of total containership fleet capacity) are too large to transit the old locks today, but only around 200 of 3.0m teu (15% of fleet capacity) will be too large to pass through the new locks. Vessels of up to and around 13,500 TEU will be able to transit, compared to around 4-5,000 teu previously. This is expected to drive significant changes in containership deployment, particularly on the Transpacific trade.

Let’s Go Wide

In addition, the opening of the new locks is generally thought likely to have an important impact on the LNG, LPG and car carrier sectors. All VLGCs will be able to transit the new locks, as will the majority of LNG carriers, compared to only a handful of small LNG carriers previously. This is expected to lead to an increase in LNG vessels transiting the canal, typically with exports from the US.

Locked In To A New Era

Clarksons Research is marking this important milestone through a number of data updates. Fleet databases now include vessel indicators for the ability to transit both the “New” and “Old” locks of the Panama Canal, which will be displayed on vessel profiles within Shipping Intelligence Network and World Fleet Register. Vessel segmentation within the containership sector will also be updated to best reflect the structure of the fleet in the context of the expanded canal. As the Panama Canal enters a new era, for many in the shipping industry it’s the perfect time to “go wide”. Have a nice day!