Panama Canal officials are looking to offer volume-based incentives to containership operators as part of plans to encourage full use of the expanded waterway after it opens – an event now eyed for “early the second part of this year.”
“Our objective is to fill the new capacity as soon as possible,” Francisco Miguez, executive vice president of finance and administration of the Panama Canal Authority, said Jan. 18 at the SMC3 Jump Start 2016 conference in Atlanta.
Miguez described the discounts as “incentives in our toll structure for bringing in volume… as an airline, with loyalty points.”
He declined to provide details, just as he was somewhat imprecise about when commerce will be able to begin moving through the new locks, which will allow passage of containerships carrying as many as 14,000 twenty-foot-equivalent container units.
“Early the second part of this year” was as specific as Miguez would get, citing numerous construction delays in the $5.25 billion project that have pushed the opening well past the plan for timing with the canal’s 2014 centennial. “I would love to give you a specific date, but this is construction. We cannot push the contractor for a specific date.”
He added that the expansion work is “96 percent complete right now,” with current activities centered around testing, as well as training pilots using a reduced-scale replica model.
Miguez said he anticipates that his authority’s marketing plan, along with the wider passage, will help the Panama Canal gain a greater share of the container trade between Northeast Asia and the U.S. East Coast, volume of which he said currently is split in approximately even thirds between Panama Canal routings, Suez Canal transits and intermodal transport via West Coast ports.
Other aspects of the plan, he said, include an air hub; development near the Pacific entrance of a transshipment port with an annual capacity of 5 million TEUs, as well as of a roll-on/roll-off terminal; logistics parks; bunkering and vessel repair services; power generation; and a possible liquefied natural gas terminal.
The authority will have plenty of additional canal capacity to fill. Miguez said traffic maxed out last year at a record 340.8 million tons, while the expanded passage is expected to annually accommodate more than 500 million tons of traffic by 2024.
Full Jump Start 2016 coverage is to appear in the Feb. 8 edition of the American Journal of Transportation.