The Panama Canal Authority will move ahead with plans to build a large terminal in Corozal, close to the new set of Pacific locks being built as part of the canal expansion.
Rodolfo Sabonge, executive vice president of planning and business development at the Panama Canal Authority (ACP), said the new terminal would be owned by ACP, which would then hire a private company to operate it.
The Corozal terminal would be “so close to the locks that we really need to keep it for strategic purposes.”
He said there has been a lot of interest in the project and ACP will be coming out with a request for bids. Panama does not want the terminal to be controlled by a single steamship line, but rather use it to serve multiple shipping companies.
The new terminal would be built in two phases, the first on 66 hectares (163 acres) and the second on 52 hectares (128.5 acres). It will have on-dock rail and will be able to also handle containers moving on a barge service that ACP plans to operate on the canal.
Sabonge said a new terminal is needed because other terminals in Panama are nearing capacity or need to be expanded. He said there will be a growing need for a terminal to handle fully-laden post-Panamax vessels when the expanded canal opens in 2015.
“The idea is to attract not only transits, but business. A major part of why ships come to Panama is to drop and pick up cargo, it is not just to transit,” he said. “If they are not capable of dropping and picking up cargo, then they are reducing the value they get from the canal.
“We are looking at all the things that we can do in Panama to take advantage of the expansion," he said. "Everybody else is doing it, so why not Panama?”
The International Development Bank is funding a study of the potential for short-sea shipping in Mesoamerica—from Mexico to Colombia and in the Caribbean.
Sabonge said short-sea shipping could lower the cost of transport and improve the environment, as much of the material transported in Central America now moves by truck. He noted short-sea shipping can be done with ferries or roll-on/roll-off ships. So this would be potentially done by a different group of companies than those that operate feeder ships in the Caribbean today.
Panama is already a transportation and logistics hub, but Sabonge said it wants to move into more value-added services.
The ACP also wants to develop 980 hecares of reclaimed land from the canal expansion near the planned Corozal terminal into a logistics park and ro/ro distribution center for Latin America.
In addition to its port infrastructure, Sabonge said Panama is rated highly as a banking center, and place for foreign direct investment.
Copa Airlines, which serves as Panama's flag carrier, is looking to expand its network. Today, he said it offers daily service to 29 countries and as many as five flights to some countries.
Sabonge said Panama could benefit if “e-commerce” takes off as it has in the United States.
“What you see already happening in the United States eventually will also happen in Latin America,” he predicted, though he noted the region has some problems with trade facilitation that have not allowed it to move as fast.
“But this is really a worldwide trend,” he said noting the increasing popularity of smartphones, which are being used to make purchases.
ACP said this week the canal expansion is 50-percent complete and it expects to open the expanded waterway to commercial traffic in mid-2015.
The authority said some portions of the project are completed, including deepening of the navigational channels at both the Pacific and Atlantic entrances as well as at Gaillard Cut. The remaining dredging work to be done in Gatun Lake is expected to be completed this year.
Excavations of the Pacific lock access channel are 70 percent complete. This project calls for the excavation of more than 50 million cubic meters of materials along a 6.1-kilometer span and is executed in four phases. Three of the four phases have been completed and the fourth phase is 69 percent finished.
In addition, the first shipment of 47 valves to be used for the operation of the third set of locks arrived during the past two weeks. These valves are part of the post-Panamax locks' electromechanical system that will regulate water flow between the chambers, culverts and water-saving basin conduit. A second shipment is scheduled to arrive at the end of January. By the end of 2013, a total of 158 valves, 84 bulkheads and 328 trash racks will have arrived for the project. The valves were built in South Korea by Hyundai Samho Heavy Industries.
ACP said the new lock complexes in the Pacific and Atlantic sides will feature three chambers, three water-saving basins per chamber, a lateral filling and emptying system and rolling gates. - Chris Dupin