Panama Canal

The Panama Canal: Six Facts You May Not Know

Built as a shortcut to sail vessels between the east and west coasts of the United States, the Panama Canal was the largest engineering marvel of its time. It celebrated its 100th anniversary last August, and its much-needed expansion opens at the end of 2015. Keep reading to brush up on your Panama Canal knowledge.

  1. Nearly 15,000 ships traverse the canal every year, with American ships as the top users. Other heavy canal customers are ships from China, Chile, Japan, Colombia and South Korea. A ship traveling from San Francisco to New York trims 7,872 miles by using the Panama Canal instead of going around Cape Horn.
  2. $2 billion in tolls are collected annually. Fees for the largest ships can be upwards of $450,000, and legend says that the lowest toll ever collected was 36 cents, forked over by American adventurer Richard Halliburton prior to his famous swim of the length of the canal in 1928.
  3. The canal operates 24/7, with 40 ships crossing daily taking 8-10 hours each.
  4. Megaships are coming. The $5.25 billion expansion widens the canal to handle post-Panamax ships that carry up to 14,000 20-foot containers – nearly three times today’s accommodation. With the expansion, tonnage will raise from 275 to 600 annually. But new vessels, including Maersk’s Triple E class ships, have already outgrown the canal’s soon-to-be wider width. The Triple Es, also known as the planet’s biggest container ships, are 194 feet wide and 1,312 feet long, with a capacity of 18,000 20-foot containers.
  5. Grain and energy are the expansion’s big winners. Dry bulk-goods movers are registering record grain cargoes – 49 million metric tons, predominantly produced in the U.S. and headed for Asia – moved through the canal in 2014. That’s nearly 50 percent more than 2013 and is expected to rise with larger ships on the way. Petroleum liquid shipments reached 32.3 million metric tons at the same time. Altogether, bulk container shipments equaled 89 million metric tons – more than a quarter of all the canal’s tonnage.
  6. If you build it, the mega-projects will come. From a $6.4 billion USD open-pit copper mine powered by a 300-megawatt coal-fired power plant, to a $8.7 billion USD container terminal east of Colon, to a $4 billion USD residential resort, the canal’s expansion is attracting developers along the Caribbean coast who are approaching Panama’s regulatory agencies with proposals of every shape and size.

In the next few weeks, Market Share will take a look at nine U.S. ports and their preparedness for the canal’s expansion. Check back to see how the east coast ports stack up.

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