Panama Canal Plans New Toll Structure

Panama Canal Plans New Toll Structure

The Panama Canal Authority is planning to implement a new system of tolls for the post-Panamax ships that will be able to transit the canal when it completes the enlargement project in 2015.

The canal authority has already begun discussions with shipping lines of all kinds and with shipping associations regarding the tolls, according to Jorge Quijano, administrator of the Panama Canal Authority.

“We don’t have any number of how much it (the increase) is going to be, but we’re working on how to deal with the post-Panamax services in future,” Quijano said in an interview with the JOC.

He was traveling to Asia this month to talk with Asian shipping lines about the structure of the new toll regime the canal authority wants to introduce after the canal expansion is completed. He is meeting with container lines, car carriers, and dry and liquid bulk lines.

The canal authority has also been holding a series of meetings to discuss the new tolls with the International Chamber of Shipping and the World Shipping Council. “We will continue to do this all year, so we can come up with a final toll structure at the earliest in the first quarter of 2014 and at the latest the second quarter to be implemented after the locks are open,” Quijano said.

He expects the new locks to open to commercial traffic in mid-2015, with the project itself wrapping up that April. “We are adding a buffer of additional time because we are having to do some test transits of our own before we start going commercial,” Quijano said. “If we can come on line earlier, we are definitely going to do it.”

The enlargement project is about 54 percent complete at this point. Quijano said the contractor that is building the new locks will undertake the heaviest amount of work on the project in the next few months when it completes all of the dredging of the channel and access to the Atlantic and the Pacific entrances. “We are completing the Culebra Cut, which is the narrowest point on the canal,” he said. “We only have about 4 million cubic meters left to dredge out of 27 million, so there is little left to do.”

The contractor will start work next year on installing the locks and gates, which are being fabricated in Italy. “All we have to do in 2014 is to complete the locks project and also the access channel built in the dry land that connects the Pacific locks to Lake Gatun,” Quijano said.

The canal authority is currently implementing a two-stage increase in tolls on all vessel segments except full container ships, reefer and passenger vessels. The first stage took effect last October, and the second stage is scheduled to take effect on Oct. 1 of this year.

It did not raise tolls on container ships in the current set of increases because they account for about half the canal’s toll revenue, and the authority wanted to remain competitive with other routes until it can open its new locks to commercial traffic.

The new locks will be able to accommodate container ships of up to 13,000 20-foot-equoivalent units, compared with the current maximum of about 5,000 TEUs.

Contact Peter T. Leach at pleach@joc.com and follow him at twitter.com/petertleach.