The Panama Canal expansion project is now expected to be finished “around the month of May,” President Juan Carlos Varela said earlier this month in an address to that nation. As the project moves into its final stages, it does make me wonder about other ports’ expansion projects so they too will be able to accommodate increasingly larger ships.

 

The most work is taking place in Cuba, which, according to its government, is the “key to the Gulf” due to its geographic position. With that in mind, Cuba continues to move forward with a project to transform the northwestern Port of Mariel into the country’s largest port as well as a regional trading hub. 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 recent report, a Latin American Herald Tribune article reports. The expansion is estimated to cost $900 million, and is financed in part by a $640 million Brazilian loan.

 

Expansion and renovation of the Port of Santiago de Cuba is also planned. Santiago de Cuba is Cuba’s second largest city, and the port is expected to be the country’s second largest. Thanks to a $100 million (U.S.) line of credit from the Chinese government, construction will begin in the second half of 2016, Juan Carlos Gonzalez, an official at the Cuban Transport Ministry, said earlier this month on Cuban TV, The Jamaica Observer reports.

 

The expansion work, to be carried out by China Communications Construction Company Ltd., will include building a new pier with high-tech cranes to speed up cargo services, as well as building railways and logistic centers to help connect the port with the rest of the country, according to the Chinese company and the Cuban government.

 

The Port of Santiago de Cuba’s current maximum capacity is for 25,000-ton ships. However, the expansion includes dredging the bay to accommodate larger ships of up to 55,000 tons, says Leonardo Naranjo, head of Santiago de Cuba port services, the Observer article notes.

 

Construction and expansion to enable larger ships to visit U.S. ports continues as well. For example, two new, larger cranes are on their way to Port Tampa Bay in Florida. The new cranes are much larger than the ones currently at the port, and will enable larger ships with more capacity to do business in the Bay area, Port Tampa Bay CEO Paul Anderson says in a Florida News 13 article.

 

“We can be a port where large ships come into Panama through the new canal,” says Anderson in the article. “They can offload to ships which are smaller that can then come to [our] port.”

 

Then again, it isn’t just construction that’s taking place. The state of Virginia’s port authority recently signed a memorandum of understanding agreement between its Port of Virginia and Cuba’s Port of Mariel to bolster the relationship between the two port authorities.

 

“Virginia enjoys a uniquely productive economic relationship with Cuba, and this MOU will generate additional opportunities for economic and cultural exchange,” Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe says in a Richmond Times-Dispatch article.

 

The agreement “establishes a platform for cooperation and information sharing aimed at developing links between Cuba and Virginia to support waterborne trade and investment, improve customer service, enhance collaboration to achieve improved business practices and increase the level of vessel services available between the two entities,” according to a State of Virginia announcement.

 

It’s interesting to see how other ports continue to prepare for changes after the Panama Canal expansion is finished, and larger ships move through the canal. What will prove more interesting, however, is the impact on supply chains. Certainly many U.S. ports on the Gulf Coast and Eastern seaboard will see increased business, as will some regional distribution hubs. Will that have an impact on your supply chain?