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  January 1st, 2016 | Written by

The Panama Canal: 2015 in Review

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  • 340.8 million tons of cargo moved through the Panama Canal in 2015, a 4.3 percent increase from 2014.
  • The Panama Canal Authority started building a third bridge to span the canal, a project to be completed in 2017.

The year that just ended was an historic year for the Panama Canal and the Panama Canal Authority (ACP). In 2015, the authority reached a number of milestones: nearing completion of the first-ever canal expansion, setting a tonnage record, training employees, investing in simulation facilities and other infrastructure projects, instituting a new toll structure, and diversifying its products and services.

The canal transited the most tonnage in its 101-year history in 2015. 340.8 million tons of cargo moved through the waterway, representing a 4.3 percent year-on-year increase from 2014. The previous record was set in FY 2012, when 333.7 million tons transited the waterway.

Early in 2015, the ACP proposed a new tolls structure. The approval from the Panama Canal’s Board of Directors followed more than a year of consultations with industry representatives, an open call for comments, and a public hearing to solicit feedback on the proposed changes. The restructured tolls, which will feature a customer loyalty program for the container segment, will go into effect on April 1, 2016.

The ACP marked another milestone this fiscal year when it broke ground to build a third bridge that spans the canal. Work on the infrastructure project is progressing smoothly towards its anticipated completion in 2017. Once opened, it will connect the city of Colon and communities west of the Canal, linking the two regions, generating development, stimulating local economies, and boosting tourism.

Besides expanding the Canal, the ACP is focused on several other initiatives that provide new products and services for its customers and the maritime industry. The new Corozal Port is the most advanced of these enterprises, enhancing the Canal’s offering and diversifying its revenue base.

On Nov. 26, the ACP issued a Request for Qualifications for companies interested in competing to design, develop, finance, construct, operate, and maintain the Corozal Container Terminal. Nearly all of the world’s largest port operators expressed interest.

Among the project’s requirements is the need to develop a green terminal to limit impact on the environment. The terminal, which will be located at the Pacific entrance of the waterway, will feature anti-noise perimeter walls and electrical devices producing zero carbon emissions, along with a number of other elements recommended by an environmental impact study. Once operational, the terminal will produce up to 2,600 permanent jobs.

A logistics park is currently under study, with a roll-on/roll-off terminal, a liquefied natural gas bunkering facility, and top-off operations for dry-bulk carriers being analyzed or considered.

The canal expansion project’s water-saving basins were completed in 2015. These water-savings basins employ state-of-the-art European technology that will allow the canal, for the first time, to recycle water used during lockage of transiting vessels. Nearly 60 percent of the millions of gallons of water used per lockage in the new locks will be recycled.

The ACP’s preparation and training programs will help to ensure the continued reliability of the Panama Canal and that the existing Canal and the expanded Canal will run seamlessly. Some of them are related to the training of the canal’s pilots and tugboat captains, consisting of three core elements: training at its simulation center, conducting mock transits at the Panama Canal Scale Model Maneuvering Training Facility, and conducting trial transits of Neo Panamax vessels chartered by the ACP.

“As the 101-year-old canal reflects on the successes of the past fiscal year, I am so proud of our people and Panama,” said Panama Canal Administrator and CEO Jorge L. Quijano. “We look forward to the opening of the expanded canal, providing safe, reliable, and efficient service to our customers for the next century and beyond. We are all excited about the road that lies ahead.”