The Panama Canal is a marvel of engineering that connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. The canal has been critical in global trade since its opening in 1914. In 2016, the canal underwent a massive expansion project that increased its capacity to accommodate larger vessels. The expansion project was a significant undertaking that involved widening and deepening the canal and the construction of new locks allowing larger ships to pass through.
After the expansion, the canal’s dimensions increased significantly, allowing larger and wider ships to pass through. The expansion project included constructing a new set of locks, which increased the canal’s length to around 80 kilometres.
Higher capacity. Or not?
The new locks can accommodate larger and wider ships, such as the New Panamax vessels. These ships can carry up to 14,000 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEUs) and are around 366 meters long and 49 meters wide. The expanded canal can also accommodate other types of ships, such as liquefied natural gas (LNG) carriers, dry bulk carriers, and tankers.
Since the expansion, larger ships have crossed the canal. The largest container ship that crossed the canal was the Triton, operated by Evergreen, which crossed the canal in 2019 carrying 15,313 TEU. Recently this record was broken regarding capacity when CMA CGM’s Zephyr crossed the canal carrying 16,285 TEU.
But the weather conditions play an important role…
Come rain, come shine
These large ships are stretching the limits of the canal and the locks. Crossings of these high-capacity ships have been made possible because of heavy rains, which caused high water levels in the canal. Now that the region is being hit by a period of drought, the canal is also impacted. The water levels in some of the lakes that are part of the canal system are falling, causing the Panama Canal Authority to lower the draft restrictions on the largest ships crossing the canal. Neo-Panamax vessels can now have a maximum draft of 47.5 feet instead of 50 feet, which can limit the number of TEUs they can carry.
The alternative green shipping route
We are developing a new marvel of engineering: an alternative shipping route for containers crossing the Atlantic and the Pacific. Our solution is not a replacement for the Panama Canal, which operates at maximum capacity, but an alternative. Creating an alternative route frees up capacity for tankers and dry bulk carriers and lowers the waiting time at the Canal.
Because we move containers between the Atlantic and the Pacific through a tunnel using maglev technology, we not only save hours in transit time but also lower the carbon footprint of the container shipping industry. Our solution is fully powered by renewable energy and thus zero-emission.