There may be a need for further improvements to the Panama Canal even after the waterway completes its current expansion in 2015, said Alberto Alemán Zubieta, who stepped down as administrator of the Panama Canal Authority in September.
During a speech after accepting the 2012 "Connie Award" from the Containerization and Intermodal Institute in Newark, N.J. on Monday, Alemán Zubieta said he was “fairly confident” that the current expansion of the canal, which includes building sets of large new locks that will allow much larger ships to cross the isthmus, will be operational in mid-2015, 101 years after it first opened in 1914.
"I believe that this is not an end, this is a new beginning of a new era for the Panama Canal and I am sure that Panama Canal and Panama will have to make a very important decision sooner rather than later to expand the Panama Canal one more time,” he said.
In a brief interview after his speech, Alemán Zubieta said if the canal is expanded further, it may not be to build larger locks.
"I'm not thinking anymore about the scale of the locks for a matter of having an 18,000-20,000 TEU ship, because that discussion will take some time to be resolved," he said.
But he said demand will catch up with the size of the expanded waterway, “because what the canal provides is not only adding bigger sizes of ships. It will modify the way that ships will be designed in the future. Because it provides you with better ships, ships that are more efficient.”
After the expansion is finished in 2015, shipping companies will be able to navigate vessels that are even longer or have wider beams through the canal.
In November, the Japanese shipping company NYK said it's planning to build four new post-panamax pure car truck carriers (PCTCs)
that will be capable of carrying 7,000 cars. The ships, to be delivered in 2014 and 2015, will have a breadth of 35 to 36 meters and will be too large to transit the Panama Canal's current locks. The roll-on/roll-off vessel industry is looking at beamier, shallower ships, because they require less ballast water and are more fuel efficient.
Alemán Zubieta also expects the canal will begin seeing use by ships moving liquefied natural gas and possibly other types cargoes in greater quantity.
He did not say when such an expansion will come, other than to add it would be “maybe sooner than later - I don't think it is going to be 100 years.” - Chris Dupin