On January 6, 2015, the Panama Canal Authority and the Port of Lake Charles entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) to cooperate in such activities as marketing, training and data interchange. The agreement's term is five years, mutually renewable after that time.
The agreement is expected to help facilitate international trade in liquid natural gas (LNG) by the generation of new business between Asian enterprises and the Port, with vessels traveling via the Panama Canal from the Gulf of Mexico. The Port of Lake Charles is a deep water port with access into the Gulf. It is a leader in the petrochemical industry and, according to the US Army Corps of Engineers, the 13th busiest seaport district in the US (based on cargo tonnage). At this writing, Cheniere's new gas liquefaction plant in Cameron, LA, has received approval from the US government to export LNG. It will come on line in early 2016. As more permits are allowed, the Canal could have a significant impact on the US LNG manufacturing industry, as well as LNG ship builders and shippers.
Currently, many LNG vessels are unable to utilize the canal due to their width. However, once the $5.25 billion expansion of the Panama Canal is complete, the canal will have a new third lock able to handle larger, post-panamax vessels. Currently, the canal can handle container ships with a maximum capacity of 5,000 containers; the expanded canal will be able to accept ships holding 15,000 containers. The expansion construction is expected to be completed this year, and the widened Canal should open in early 2016, despite many cost overruns and delays. Canal authorities expect the expansion will lead to a doubling of canal traffic.
An article in American Press estimates that a Tokyo-bound vessel could save as much as 15 days in transit using the Panama route, assuming a minimal wait time, rather than crossing the Atlantic and using either the Suez Canal or rounding the Cape of Good Hope. Savings might be in the millions of dollars to shippers. The Suez Canal has recently begun construction of a $4 billion additional canal, which will run parallel to the original, perhaps in response to the expected competition from the Panama Canal.
A future competitor to the Panama Canal, Nicaragua has plans to create a canal of its own costing $40 billion, with the ability to handle mega-ships too large for the Panama Canal. A March, 2015, CNN article reports that the start of construction of the Nicaraguan canal was announced in December, 2014, and is expected to be completed in 2019.
Terrestrial and AIS-based data analytics allow stakeholders to evaluate the flow of vessels through major choke-points like the Panama and Suez Canals. AIS-based business intelligence aids planners in capacity planning and business planning around major maritime capital projects. This applies equally to smaller dredging and construction projects, in addition to the “mega projects”. PortVision Advantage has been used to support detailed analysis and historical reporting associated with vessel movements in regions affected by change – whether that change is construction, legislation, or the changing business tides. For more information, visit www.portvision.com.