Panama Canal

Less than six months after the inauguration of the Expanded Panama Canal, the waterway welcomed its 500th transit of a Neopanamax ship last week.

Performing the 500th transit was the container vessel YM Unity, which first began its passage through the Cocoli Locks in the Pacific and then headed north toward the Agua Clara Locks. Built in 2006, the YM Unity of the Yang Ming Marine Transport Corp. has a carrying capacity of 8,200 20-foot equivalent units, or TEUs. The ship is traveling from Asia to U.S. ports.

Its transit marks a significant milestone for the Expanded Canal, which is experiencing a steady flow of traffic — including container ships, liquid petroleum gas vessels, dry bulk carriers, vehicle carriers, crude product tankers and liquefied natural gas vessels, which is a new market segment for the canal.

A number of major liners have rerouted their service to the Canal since the expansion opened for business to take advantage of the significant time savings the new waterway provides. This included apparel shipped from Asia to East Coast distribution centers. As of this month, 10 Neopanamax liner services are being deployed through the Panama Canal.

“We’re increasingly optimistic from what we’ve seen with these traffic patterns because they show that our customers are finding real value in the route — not just in the time savings it offers, but in the efficient, reliable and safe service we provide, and the growing port and transshipment options we’re making available to them,” said Panama Canal administrator Jorge L. Quijano. “Looking forward, we’re taking steps to enhance Panama’s shipping infrastructure so that we can provide an even more holistic set of offerings to shippers and their cargo, and further strengthen the country’s position as the logistics hub of the Americas.”

In June, the Panama Canal Authority completed a 10-year, $5.25 billion expansion of the canal that included construction of a new set of locks on the Atlantic and Pacific sides of the waterway and the excavation of more than 150 million cubic meters of material, creating a second lane of traffic and doubling the cargo capacity of the waterway and allowing for a new class of megaships to utilize the passage.

While the expansion’s locks are 70 feet wider and 18 feet deeper than those in the original canal, they use less water due to water-savings basins that recycle 60 percent of the water used per transit.