Not Ready for Post-Panamax Ships by 2014? Relax.

I’ve been getting a lot of questions recently about the impact on East Coast ports that may not be fully “ready” for the Panama Canal to expand in 2014.

For example, New York-New Jersey is signaling that it won’t be able to raise the Bayonne Bridge until 2016, while the Georgia Ports Authority is indicating that completion of its 48-foot project may also come after the expansion opening date. Baltimore may have 50-feet by 2012 but won’t have its CSX National Gateway rail route into the Midwest by 2015.

But does any of this it really matter? I don’t think so. A year or two in the world of container shipping isn’t a lot of time.

I keep hearing that when the canal expands the size of the ships will indeed go up, but only from the 4,500 TEU maximum size of today to 6-8,000 20-foot equivalent container units, not the 12,000 TEUs maximize size that the canal will be able to accommodate.

As World Shipping Council president Chris Koch testified in Congress Wednesday, “it seems probable that 6‐8,000 TEU ships will become common for several years after the canal is expanded.”

Well, 8,000 TEU ships are already coming to the coast, whether in the Europe market or from Asia via the Suez canal. They are restricted by height or by draft depending on the tide, and thus getting them in and out of ports not fully able to handle them 24-7 is a challenge.

But they are coming despite navigational restrictions at some ports. In other words, this business about ports not being “ready” for the canal expansion is overblown.

-- Peter Tirschwell is senior vice president of strategy at UBM Global Trade. Contact him at, and follow him at

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