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July 07, 2014

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Chris Jenner / 36 THE JOURNAL OF COMMERCE JULY 7.2014 LATIN AMERICA TRADE AND LOGISTICS SPECIAL REPORT EVEN BEFORE IT finishes its current expansion project, the Panama Canal Authority is studying even bigger locks that would be able to accommodate Maersk's E-class vessels. When the canal's new locks are finally open to commercial traffic in 2016, the waterway will be able to handle global container ships of most, but not all, sizes. If there is a demand, the agency will think even bigger. The third set of locks now under construction will be 1,400 feet long, 180 feet wide and 60 feet deep and will be able to accommodate ships up to 1,200 feet long, large enough to accommodate ships of up to 13,000 20-foot-equivalent units. By comparison, the existing locks, which are 1,000 feet long, 100 feet wide and 42 feet deep, can handle ships up to 965 feet in length, which limits transits by ships to the current Panamax size of around 4,800 TEUs. But by the time the new locks open in 2016, shipping lines will have taken delivery of new ships of all kinds that are even bigger than the new locks' dimensions. Container carriers will have received more ships now on order ranging from 14,000 TEUs up to 18,600 TEUs, and may have started ordering even larger ships to gain the economies of scale they so desperately seek as a way to lower slot and fuel costs. Shipping analysts think orders of ships up to 24,000 TEUs are possible in the near future. "We will only build a bigger fourth set of locks if the demand is there," Panama Canal Administrator Jorge Quijano told the JOC. He said 98 percent of the global container fleet would be able to transit the new locks by 2018. "At this point in time, it is not financially feasible, but we do have a conceptual design By Peter T. Leach BIG, BIGGER, BIGGEST? With its lock project still 18 months from completion, the Panama Canal already is studying another. And that's just the beginning.

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