The Panama Canal, handling 5 percent of world trade, may change how it calculates tolls for ships carrying energy cargoes to boost traffic once a $5.25 billion expansion is complete in 2015.
The canal is investigating charging fees based on the cargo capacity of commodity carriers and tankers hauling fuels including liquid gases, Panama Canal Authority Administrator Jorge Luis Quijano said in a telephone interview Jan. 17. The proposed system would replace an existing toll-setting mechanism that doesn’t always reflect cargo capacity, he said.
Expanding the 99-year-old, 80-kilometer (50 miles) waterway to accommodate bigger ships will cut freight costs for energy-fuel cargoes and open new trade routes if the fees are set correctly, he said. The canal is used by 14,000 vessels a year, carrying 5 percent of world trade, according to its website.
“We have taken our lenses off and put on some new lenses and are trying to look at our business in a different way,” Quijano said. “The economies of scale that the big ships bring in is a benefit to the shipping line and is a benefit we want to share in. It’s not that we want to eat it all, we want to take a piece of that.”
The authority is consulting canal users about the proposed changes, including meetings with associations representing owners of tankers and dry-cargo vessels in London next month, he said. The new fee structure will be announced by February 2014, for implementation by 2015, he said.
The Panama Canal Universal Measurement System, the existing method, uses a formula that doesn’t always take into account how much cargo ships can hold, according to Quijano. The canal changed its price structure in 2005 for container ships, with fees now based on how many 20-foot steel boxes the vessels can carry, according to the authority’s website.
The expansion will deepen and widen the canal, adding a third set of locks, and open for commercial transits by June 2015, six months later than first intended, Quijano said. Loans taken out to pay for the expansion need to be paid off by 2028, he said.