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Panama Canal Ports


Canal ports gear up to handle bigger vessels

By Michell de la Ossa Prieto

The movement of containers in the Latin American Pacific has increased at a higher rate than on the Atlantic side because the Caribbean has a greater supply of ports.

On the Panamanian Atlantic side, Manzanillo International Terminal (MIT), the largest container terminal in the Caribbean in terms of infrastructure and volume, is currently preparing for the opening of the expanded canal in early 2016 with a series of improvements in cargo handling capacity at the terminal, including the relocation and modernization of the main gatehouse.

The port is currently building a 600 meter wharf and has acquired four additional post panamax gantry cranes.


The Port of Manzanillo this year celebrates 20 years of operation. During this period it has invested more than US$ 700 million to meet the needs of international maritime trade.

This Panamanian Atlantic port has a productivity rate of 32 moves per hour and has an installed capacity of 2.5 million teu – projected to reach 4 million teu as a result of the expansion.

All this investment is because in about 12 months the third set of post panamax locks will open to international maritime trade, allowing vessels of up to 12,000 teu capacity to transit the canal. This means that the regional ports, and particularly those of Panama, will have the capacity to deal with these mega ships.

The largest port investments are expected in the Panamanian Pacific, commencing with a project by Singapore Ports Authority (PSA) to expand its Pacific terminal in the Port of Rodman.

The port company is awaiting approval of its expansion by the Board of Directors of the Panama Canal Authority (ACP). The plan is to expand the total area of the terminal to 40 hectares and to boost its capacity from a current level of 450,00 teu to approximately 2 million teu.

Gantry cranes 

These works will extend the length of quay by 800 meters to a total of 1.1 km with eight new gantry cranes operating across a width of 24 rows and 12 rail mounted gantry (RMG) cranes to join the existing nine rubber tired gantry (RTG) cranes.

Work is expected to be completed in the middle of next year. The budgeted investment is US$ 350 million and these world-class works will allow vessels of up to 18,000 teu to be accommodated. This will boost the capacity of the country, particularly the western shore of the canal’s Pacific entrance, in line with the vision of the current government to promote Panama as a logistics platform.

A plan to build what would be the third container port in the Panamanian Pacific, Corozal, on the banks of the canal, driven by the ACP, has come to a halt, since the Infrastructure Committee of the House of Representatives will vote against the legal bill that grants tax exemption to the winner of the tender to build the Corozal port.

The argument of those on the Infrastructure Committee is that this port would cause congestion at the Pacific entrance to the canal. The country is investing millions of dollars in an expansion project to be more efficient, but this port would cause delays, it says.

The ACP was awaiting the approval of this bill to start the bidding process involving the selection of companies wishing to take part in the tendering process. The idea of ACP administrator Jorge Quijano is that the specifications should be available publicly for about five months so that all stakeholders have an opportunity to study it.

So far, three companies had shown an interest in the process. One is APM Terminals, the port branch of the world’s biggest container company, Maersk Line, a major user of the ports of Balboa and Manzanillo (Colón). This company has been involved in the Latin American market throughits port projects in Peru and Costa Rica.

Panama was also visited by a delegation of Ports America, Bechtel and Majesty, who formed a consortium to participate in this tender.


Mr Quijano said Panama Ports Company (PPC), the harbor arm of Hutchison Port Holdings (HPH), had also shown interest, but not as PPC since it already had a contract with the Panamanian nation, but under another company or consortium. He also said there was yet another consortium looking for a partner.

“My feeling is that there may be four or five interested in bidding,” he said.

Prior to the rejection of the bill by the Assembly of Deputies, the official had said that construction of the new port should commence in the first quarter of 2016. He said: “Assuming that the tender goes public in June, proposals should be received in November, thus permitting adjudication in December or January.” However, since this project was presented by the members of the Infrastructure Committee, the entire schedule has changed.

In previous interviews, Mr Quijano had proposed that the successful bidder should be required to give a ‘pledge of performance’, as was customary in the bidding process to ensure prompt delivery.

Regarding this pledge, the official said it was being evaluated by a firm of lawyers specializing in international port concessions to ensure they have the best possible port concession.

Another of the Latin American Pacific ports investing here is Manzanillo, Mexico. Recently, Bernardo Uribe, the ICTSI agent for Contecon in Manzanillo, said that the first phase of its Mexican Pacific port terminal was complete and they had already begun its second phase of expansion.

Mr Uribe emphasized the fact that his company focuses on countries that generate domestic organic cargo, not simply transshipment products.

The Mexican port of Manzanillo handled 2,368,741 teu in 2014, representing an increase of 11.8 per cent compared with 2013. This is Mexico’s largest port in terms of container volume.