What does a wider Panama Canal mean for you?

A new third lane in the canal will be a game-changer for the global shipping industry, McClatchy’s Tim Johnson reports: [T]he Panama Canal was always constrained by the size of its locks, permitting no vessel longer than 965 feet, wider than 106 feet and with a draft greater than 39 feet to pass through. Ships ...

Juan Jose RODRIGUEZ/AFP/GettyImages
Juan Jose RODRIGUEZ/AFP/GettyImages

A new third lane in the canal will be a game-changer for the global shipping industry, McClatchy's Tim Johnson reports:

[T]he Panama Canal was always constrained by the size of its locks, permitting no vessel longer than 965 feet, wider than 106 feet and with a draft greater than 39 feet to pass through. Ships suitable for the canal became known as Panamax vessels and could carry nearly 5,000 20-foot shipping containers.

When the third lane opens in late 2014, the canal’s capacity will more than double. Ships as long as 1,200 feet and up to 160 feet wide, with drafts as deep as 50 feet, will be able to transit. The largest vessels will carry as many as 13,200 containers, or at least double the dry weight of bulk cargo that can pass through today.

A new third lane in the canal will be a game-changer for the global shipping industry, McClatchy’s Tim Johnson reports:

[T]he Panama Canal was always constrained by the size of its locks, permitting no vessel longer than 965 feet, wider than 106 feet and with a draft greater than 39 feet to pass through. Ships suitable for the canal became known as Panamax vessels and could carry nearly 5,000 20-foot shipping containers.

When the third lane opens in late 2014, the canal’s capacity will more than double. Ships as long as 1,200 feet and up to 160 feet wide, with drafts as deep as 50 feet, will be able to transit. The largest vessels will carry as many as 13,200 containers, or at least double the dry weight of bulk cargo that can pass through today.

Panamax vessels are long, slim and require a lot of water ballast to maintain balance. New mega-ships will be wider, more stable and will consume up to 16 percent less fuel – meaning a smaller environmental footprint and lower costs for their operators. Shipyards are seeing a surge in orders for what are called post-Panamax vessels.

To prepare for the post-Panamax world, the White House has issued orders to expedite digging projects to expand ports in Miami, Jacksonville, Savannah, Charleston, and New York/New Jersey. Other American ports are scrambling to get ready. The expansion could have a profound effect on energy markets as well, allowing coal from Colombia, and natural gas from the Carribean easier access to Asian markets. 

Joshua Keating was an associate editor at Foreign Policy  Twitter: @joshuakeating

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