Following the close of its 2017 fiscal year, the Panama Canal Authority announced that 403.8 million Panama Canal tons of cargo passed through the waterway in FY2017, its largest ever amount of annual tonnage. The 22.2 percent increase from the previous year can be directly attributed to the added capacity provided by the Expanded Canal. Industry analysts say the impact on U.S. ports is already being experienced.


According to its latest figures, 13,548 vessels passed through the Panama Canal during FY2017, representing a 3.3 percent increase over last year. Thanks to the larger Neopanamax vessels now able to transit the expanded canal, the growth in traffic created a 22.2 percent increase in total annual tonnage from FY2016, and helped the Panama Canal surpass the already ambitious cargo projection of reaching 399 million tons, says Panama Canal Administrator Jorge L. Quijano.


“These record figures reflect not only the industry’s confidence in the Expanded Panama Canal, but also illustrate our continued ability to transform the global economy and revitalize the maritime industry,” says Quijano.


The U.S. continues to be the main user of the waterway—representing the origin or destination for 68.3 percent of the total cargo transiting the Panama Canal. The impact of the expanded Panama Canal was also apparent at ports along the U.S. East Coast, especially those able to accommodate larger Neopanamax ships. Some of those U.S. ports set records for year-on-year growth and the total amount of tonnage received, which can be directly attributed to the widening of the Panama Canal.


For example, Georgia’s Port of Savannah reports it moved more than one million twenty-foot equivalent container units (TEUs) across Garden City Terminal in the first quarter of FY2018 (July 1-Sept. 30), growing by 5.8 percent or 55,629 TEUs over the same period in FY2017. In September alone, the Port Authority reports it moved 325,141 TEUs, an increase of 5.4 percent or 16,792 TEUs compared to the same month last year.


“Sustained organic growth coupled with increased market share are driving these volume increases,” says GPA Executive Director Griff Lynch. “We have also achieved major gains through the addition of Neopanamax vessels to the fleet serving Garden City Terminal.”


Then there’s the South Carolina Ports Authority, which reports 10 percent container volume growth in September and strong results for the first quarter of FY2018. The port authority further notes it moved 179,856 TEU last month, the strongest September on record. The month also pushed SCPA’s volume for the first quarter of FY2018 to 539,995 TEUs, a nearly four percent year-over-year increase, according to SCPA.


In anticipation of continued growth, the SCPA Board of Directors recently approved a $69.5 million contract for the purchase of six new ship-to-shore cranes to serve growing container volumes and big ships calling the Port of Charleston.


“As the largest crane purchase in our history, the contract approved today is an important part of our overall investment in infrastructure and capacity to ensure the Port is well-positioned for the future,” said Jim Newsome, SCPA president and CEO. “When the cranes arrive in late 2019, deepening of the Charleston Harbor to 52 feet will be nearly two-thirds complete and construction of our new container terminal will also be nearly finished.”


What are your thoughts on Neopanamax ships increasingly using the expanded Panama Canal to call on U.S. ports on the East Coast? Has it had any impact on your supply chain’s performance?