The Panama Shortcut

Football-field-size LNG tankers have a new route to Asia.

Shell Maran Gas Apollonia arrives at the North Locks of the Panama Canal on Monday, July 25.
Photographer: Tobias Hutzler

Shell Maran Gas Apollonia arrives at the North Locks of the Panama Canal on Monday, July 25.

When the sun rose over the Caribbean Sea on July 25, the Maran Gas Apollonia was churning toward the new Panama Canal with a shipment of U.S. liquefied natural gas that it had loaded at Cheniere Energy’s Sabine Pass terminal in Louisiana. Tugs guided the 90,434-ton tanker into the first of the Panama Canal’s new Agua Clara Locks. The gates closed, and water filled the first chamber. That night the vessel passed through Gatun Lake and the new Cocoli Locks and entered the Pacific Ocean, becoming the first LNG tanker to transit the expanded shipping lane that opened in June. Built in 2014, the Royal Dutch Shell-chartered tanker is about 13 meters (43 feet) wider than the largest ships the old locks could handle. The expansion opens the Panama Canal to about 90 percent of the world’s LNG fleet, up from less than 10 percent, allowing these football-field-size tankers to shave 11 days and one-third the cost of the typical round trip to Asia. In July the U.S. Department of Energy predicted 550 tankers could be crossing each year by 2021. —Photographs by Tobias Hutzler, with art director Hein Haugland

Photographer: Tobias Hutzler

Vessels waiting in front of the canal for their spot and resupplies.

Photographer: Tobias Hutzler

Shell Maran Gas Apollonia arrives at the South Locks of the Panama Canal on Monday, July 25.

Photographer: Tobias Hutzler

Detail of Shell Maran Gas Apollonia.

Photographer: Tobias Hutzler

British Merchant arrives at the north Locks, Tuesday, July 26.

Photographer: Tobias Hutzler

Details of a container ship.

Photographer: Tobias Hutzler

Locals watch  vessels pass by.

Photo Editor: Donna Cohen