As progress continues on the Panama Canal expansion project, work also moves forward at various U.S. ports. Other efforts may begin soon to deepen part of the lower Mississippi River so it too may accommodate larger post-Panamax sized vessels.
The Panama Canal project includes the construction of a new set of locks, which will create a new lane of traffic along the Canal and double the waterway’s capacity. The existing locks allow the passage of vessels that can carry up to 5,000 TEUs. After the expansion, larger, so-called post-Panamax vessels capable of carrying up to 13,000 TEUs will be able to move through the Panama Canal. The problem is those larger ships will require considerably deeper ports, which is why numerous U.S. ports have expansion and dredging projects underway.
Other port officials are evaluating options. For example, Jacksonville, FL officials recently announced the city is considering a $766 million project to deepen its St. Johns River shipping channel from 40 to 47 feet to accommodate those ships.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has also announced plans to draft a supplemental environmental impact report looking into expanding an area of the Mississippi River Ship Canal between Baton Rouge and the Gulf of Mexico. The plan would deepen the section of the river from 45 feet up to a maximum of 50 feet to accommodate larger vessels destined for the Panama Canal.
This isn’t the first time the idea has been discussed. The plan to deepen that portion of the Mississippi River has been under consideration since the 1980s, when an environmental impact study originally recommended deepening the navigational channel between Baton Rouge and the Gulf of Mexico to a depth 55 feet. However, with the completion of the Panama Canal set for next year, the U.S. government is again working to ensure Mississippi River ports can accommodate the larger vessels.
The Army Corp expressed interest in the project, stating, “there may be economic justification in expanding port projects to accommodate post-Panamax vessels,” the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports. The Corps will study the environmental impacts of the project, as well as its price tag—which could reach $300 million—to determine whether the project’s cost is justified by the expected benefits, the article explains.
Then again, it isn’t just U.S. ports that are working on expansion projects. A recent Latin America Herald Tribune article reports that, according to official media, Cuba plans to transform the northwestern port of Mariel into the country’s largest port and also a regional trading hub. The port has already been dredged to a depth of 60 feet to accommodate post-Panamax vessels. The containers terminal being built at Mariel, 28 miles west of Havana, will be an important entry and departure point for merchandise and the heart of the Special Development Zone at the port complex, state television said in a report.
A Cuban construction firm and Brazilian engineering firm Odebrecht are in charge of the expansion plan, which is said to have a cost of $900 million, including a $640 million Brazilian loan. Projects being carried out at Mariel’s Special Development Zone include a 6,550-foot dock capable of accommodating deep-draft vessels and a terminal with the capacity to receive three million containers a year, the Latin America Herald Tribune article reports. Port Mariel also will have a road and rail network that connects with existing highways to guarantee efficient handling of the additional traffic generated by the port expansion.
How do you think the expanded Panama Canal will affect your company’s supply chain? Secondly, are you also watching U.S. ports to evaluate their capabilities?