During the two first years of operation, the extended Panama Canal has set plenty of records, surpassing expectations and redifining global commercial trade routes and having a positive impact on a worldwide scale. Currently, it is estimated that with the cash flow generated by the waterway, return over investment should come just shy of 10 years.
That is what Jorge Luis Quijano, Panama Canal manager, told in exclusive to MundoMaritimo, expressing that the project “han been more than adequate to continue contributing to the positioning of Panama as the Americas hub.” Quijano also highlights that safety and efficiency of the extended waterway “have been our key pillars. They are the focus of all our operations and that’s why we have prioritized to keep the waterway at the vanguard of global trade.” To keep this up, the Canal’s administration does extensive continuous investigation, personnel training, technology updates and efforts to broaden access channels to nearby bodies of water.
“As a matter of fact, we have recently celebrated in Panama the 34th World Congress of the World Association for Waterborne Transport Infrastructure (PIANC) 2018, where the Canal’s infrastructure advances were widely recognized in the industry, as well as its role in boosting the industry towards a more efficient, competitive, profitable and sustainable future,” he said.
The works’ magnitude was not without challenges. One of the difficulties to overcome was the detection of cracks in the infrastructure before official operation. On the subject, Quijano says that “we have not detected any other inconveniences with the structure since the inauguration,” and adds that “there are constant maintenance works and thanks to our preventive efforts, the Canal’s operations remain safe, efficient and trustworthy, the same as they were in its beginning.”
-How much does the Gatún and Alhajuela lakes’ water regime affect the Canal’s efficiency? How has management dealt with the issue?
“In order to continue offering a safe and efficient service to its clients, the Panama Canal keeps a close watch on weather conditions, as well as lake water levels, to adopt opportune measures when necessary. As part of the administration responsible for water in low rainfall season, the Panama Canal applies conservation actions such as suspending the generation of electricity in the Gatún hydro plant, elimination of the use of hydraulic assistance during the operation of the locks, cross-chamber filling and the use of water saving tubs for the new locks.
The water saving measures during the transit operation are aligned with the Canal’s commitment and responsibility to prioritize human consumption in water administration, including supply of freshwater for potable conversion plants that provide for 1.9 million people, who take their water resources from lakes Gatún and Alhajuela.”
Along with the infrastructure challenges of the extended Canal, there’s also those related to the staff that operate it. One of these is the conflict between some ship pilots and port pilots. On the subject, Quijano pointed out that the waterway is operating in normal conditions and that towboats’ crew are operating normally since July 1, including those who assist vessels on the neopanamax locks.
“After the experience of over 3,800 ship transits (that represent 7,600 uses of the locks) in the extended Canal, the normalization of the towboats’ crew will contribute to safe, continuous, efficient and profitable transit, confirming the Canal’s responsiblity to guarantee an uninterrupted service,” he said.
The oil&gas novelty
One of the biggest novelties that came from the extension of the Panama Canal is that LNG tanquers began to cross the channel. Quijano points that “this segment did not use the Canal’s locks before because of space issues, so now it is with great pride that we are able to offer this increased capacity service.”
“In little time, and thanks to the larger capacity offered by the neopanamax locks, the LNG segment has grown rapidly. Projections are very encouraging, in fact, it has been recenlty announced that there are three LNG ships crossing daily, a first for this interoceanic waterway.”
The containership segment also has solid numbers. “In the past 24 months, more than 3,800 vessels have crossed the neopanamax locks, of which about 50% are containerships,” says Quijano.
- Does the extension of the Canal fit in with Panama’s aspiration to become a port hub?
“Without a doubt, it does. Since its opening in 1914, the strategic location of the Panama Canal has allowed ships to shorten distances compared to alternative routes, reducing costs and greenhouse effect emissions.”
Quijano also points out that the use of the Canal in shipping transit routes represents a significant savings in both time and money, for vessels headed to the Atlantic and Pacific coasts alike. “This way, the Canal allows the region to receive directly multiple ships coming from different parts of the world and carrying a wide variety of goods and products that used to have much longer voyages and more extensive routes.”
About the development of a new extension, Jorge Luis Quijano is more cautious: “I believe it is not yet time to talk of a fourth set of locks. Because in order to have a Canal with a fourth set of locks, we need to evaluate the return over the investment, since it will require more use of water”.
He highlights that “we need to look for other sources of water,” a key issue that “we have already pointed out to government, having found positive support in the sense that we have been hired to lead the search of new water sources to counter effect the water usage from the lakes.”
Quijano also explains that between the two lakes the city has been prpgressively receiving more water, and that the goal is to provide for nearly 60% of the country’s population. “For us it is important to compensate the water we use with other water sources destined for human consumption. We are conscious that first comes ensuring water for human consumption and if there’s a human need on board ships that also comes before locks operations.”
CAM Panamá 2018
Organiza Cámara Marítima Panamá