Panama Canal expects to see nearly doubling of liquefied natural gas (LNG) carrier transits through the waterway by 2020 driven by US exports of natural gas, the Panama Canal Administrator, Jorge L. Quijano, said at Sea Asia this week.
“For the first time in canal history, we are handling LNG vessels that were unable to fit our Panamax-size locks. The shale revolution in the United States not only has produced a quantum leap in terms of technology and volumes, but has also become a catalyst for the development and rapid evolution of a growing spot market, swaps and short-term contracts that were unthinkable a few years ago,” Quijano added.
According to Quijano, the Panama Canal’s expansion has also brought a shift in trade patterns in the liquid bulk segment.
Following the inauguration of the expanded locks last year, the canal welcomed its first-ever LNG carrier, the Shell-chartered Maran Gas Apollonia, in July 2016.
The expanded canal can accommodate 90 percent of the world’s LNG carriers, allowing ships departing the U.S. East and Gulf Coast for Asia to cut voyage times to 22.8 days roundtrip.
Based on the canal authority’s figures, the LNG segment has been surpassing the canal’s original expectations of one transit per week, and on average, 5.2 LNG vessels have transited the canal per week.
“During the past nine months of operation of our expanded canal we have seen LNG flows that we never expected a few years back. For example, LNG from Algeria and from Equatorial Guinea going to Mexico’s Pacific coast using the Panama Canal,” Quijano went on to say.
Aside to natural gas from the US, the canal authority is looking into boosting LNG and LPG traffic from Asian customers. Namely, a Panama Canal delegation recently returned from a data collection mission to Asia where it met with shipping companies and maritime organizations from Japan, South Korea, China and Taiwan. A particular spotlight has been put on the shipping needs for natural gas, as considerable meetings were held with gas shipping majors such as Astomos, Tokyo Gas, Korea Gas Corporation (KOGAS) and SK Gas.
World Maritime News Staff