After more than a year-long delay, a new set of larger locks for the Panama Canal will be complete by the end of June.
The locks that already exist can allow the passage of vessels that can carry up to 4,800 TEUs. After the expansion, the Post-Panamax vessels (large vessels that do not fit in the canal) will be able to transit through the Canal, with up to 12,000/13,000 TEUs.
Especially U.S. Ports in East Coast have invested millions of dollars to be able to handle post-panamax vessels. So far, most of the ports are not ready for the change yet but have invested so much money for upgrades and are still working on them.
Some of major investments are presented below;
• The Port of Virginia and Army Corps of Engineers signed an agreement last year to share the cost of a 3 year study examining the feasibility of deepening Hampton Roads port channels to as much as 55 feet.
• At Baltimore, Ports America completed deepening the berth at its Seagrit Marine Terminal to 50 feet in 2013 and installed super-post-panamax cranes there that can reach across ships carrying 22 rows of containers.
• Miami completed deepening its channel to 50 feet last year and has installed four super-post-panamax gantry cranes to handle the larger ships it expects when the third set of Panama Canal locks open.
• The port of New York and New Jersey expects to complete a $1.6 billion project this summer to deepen about 50 feet the channels to its major container terminals. This project has started in 2004 and still has yet to be completed. The project to raise the air draft of Bayonne Bridge is a year behind schedule and expected to complete by the end of 2017. Currently, the bridge is too low to allow the largest container vessels to pass under it on their route the terminals.
• After more than 15 years of research, the $706 million dollar project to deepen the Savannah River from 42 to 47 feet along the 39 miles from its mouth up to the Port of Savannah began last September and is expected to be completed as early as 2021.
• Houston plans to invest $1.6 billion dollars through 2021 to expand the capacity at its Barbours Cut and Bayport container terminals. They already replaced older cranes at Barbours Cut with the new super-post-panamax cranes.
• Mobile, Alabama is also preparing for new Asian services using the new Panama locks. APM Terminals in Mobile has ordered two new cranes that can handle ships with containers up to 21 containers across.
With all these investments and upgrades, East Coast ports plan to lure container traffic from congested West Coast ports to the East Coast. However, we don’t know how quickly these ports will adapt high volume container traffic since they have to wait until 2020 for major improvements.
Delayed upgrades, port fixes and global economy crisis will minimize the benefits for East Coast ports from Panama Canal Expansion in short term. On the other hand, it is unclear how the rates will come out. It needs to be convincing for importers to use East Coast ports for sure.