photo courtesy of Panama Canal Authority
The current $5.2 billion Panama Canal expansion is
continuing, and is scheduled to be completed in the middle of
2014, on time for the centenary of the canal.
   The new expanded canal will be able to handle ships up to 1,200ft in length, 160ft beam
and tropical fresh water draught of 50ft, compared with 965ft in
length, 106ft beam and 39.5ft tropical fresh water draft of the
existing canal.  In terms of deadweight tonnage for dry bulkers,
ships between 110–120,000dwt will be able to use the expanded
canal fully loaded.  Ships greater than those measures and up to
170,000dwt may use the expanded canal partially loaded or
ballast, impacting the overall hiring and repositioning of dry
bulkers in the shipping market.  Also, this expanded canal will be
able to handle container vessels of up to 12,600 TEUs.  In
addition, this expanded canal will be able to handle container
vessels of up to 12,600 TEUs.  At present, the canal can
accommodate dry bulk Panamax ships of around 80–85,000dwt
and container ships of around 4,400 TEUs.
   What are the main dry bulk commodities in the existing canal
and what trades will benefit from the expanded canal?  The main
Panama Canal commodity today is container cargo, representing
about 30% of total cargo.  However, dry and breakbulk
commodities such as grains, coal and coke, ores and minerals,
lumber and products, manufactures of iron and steel and
fertilizers are also important.  Grains, the number one
commodity for the Panama Canal up to fiscal year 2001
(October to September), represents about 20% of total
cargo flow.  It is composed mostly of corn and soyabeans
destined for Asia, specifically Japan, China, South Korea and
Taiwan from export terminals located in the US Gulf.  There
are also important flows of wheat and sorghum through the Panama
Canal destined forAfrica and the Middle East from terminals located in the Pacific
Northwest and to Asia from the US Gulf. Many grain shipments
are also transported from the US Gulf to destinations in West
Coast Central and South America.  With the expanded canal this
global grain trade from the US Gulf is expected to continue
although with a better utilization of Panamax vessels, especially
to destinations in Japan, or using slightly larger ships for grain
shipments to China.
   In terms of other dry and breakbulk commodities, such as
coal and coke, ores and metals and manufactures of iron and
steel, it is expected to improve, not only the vessel utilization of
the actual ships through the Panama Canal, but, in the specific
case of coal and coke, open new possibilities for coal exports.
For example, with the expanded canal coal shipments from the
US East Coast to Asia may be more attractive during favourable
market conditions for metallurgical coal.  Shipments of
metallurgical coal could be transported either with a better
utilized Panamax ship or using a small Capesize.  Shipments of
thermal coal from Colombia’s Caribbean ports to the West
Coast of South America and metallurgical coal from West Coast
Canada to Europe may be able to use the expanded Canal with
larger ships.  Ores and metals shipments from Chile and Peru
destined for ports in the US East Coast and in Europe may
receive a boost from the expanded canal.  Finally, almost non-
existent trades, such as iron ore and manufactures from Brazil’s
northern ports to destinations in East Asia and thermal coal
from Colombia to China may be stimulated with the new canal
after 2014.