In 2014 the Panama Canal will open a new 3rd lane to accommodate ships that are wider, deeper, and longer than were previously able to pass through the older lanes.
“[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.”
It also remains to be seen how the greater capacity will influence global trade once the new lane becomes operational. Ports in the US have been told by the US government to prepare accordingly by expanding capacity to meet what seems to be coming. Beyond the assumed increase in trade there also are questions that need to be answered about how this will change trade relationships? It now might become more economically feasible to ship certain items to new destinations. The original story mentioned that coal from Columbia could now be shipped to China, which is just one example how this will impact global trade relationships. It will be interesting to see what else comes about. Oddly enough I did not hear any mention on whether or not the largest US Navy ships would now be able to use the canal.