When a canal is not a canal

Maritime blogging is usually a serious business but occasionally chucklers come along and a recent press release from the Panama Canal Board of Directors provides a few. The release boldly announced that the Panama Canal is expanding its capacities in spite of the contractual, technical and political difficulties plaguing the geriatric canal’s much-ballyhooed expansion. And, wonderfully, this new expansion doesn’t require dredging or lock enlargement, according the release, for a new port on the Pacific to provide dockage for five “Post-Panamax” ships at once and storage for up to 3,000,000 (that’s right, three million) TEU’s.

“Post-Panamax” ships? That’s a confusing term in the release that means “too big for the Panama Canal.” But the inference that these ships will replace Panamax ships could be an unfortunate obfuscation on the drafter’s part. And another forbidden word is missing from the press release: “truck.” How are those 3,000,000 containers to get from the Pacific side to the Atlantic side, and vice versa? By truck! But in what way are dockage, drayage and stevedoring related to canal operation, and why does the Authority think it will be successful in these new ventures? Well, if you had a relationship with your government like the Authority enjoys with its government, you wouldn’t have to ask that question.

But competition with other private enterprises is the furthest thing from the Authority’s collective mind, according to CEO Jorge Luis Quijano, who said that the project’s purpose will be “to add substantial value to our customers as a one-stop gateway with multiple services (and) to consolidate Panama’s position as an international logistics and maritime hub.” Well, that’s nice, but Miami does the same with no canal in sight and it’s painfully obvious by the end of the press release that this new project has nothing to do with the Panama Canal except proximity.

These omissions are not carelessness. To admit that the Panama Canal Authority is now in the common drayage business is to admit that the trumpeted Canal improvements may soon be, as predicted, too little too late. If so, the steady and sometimes astounding increase in container-vessel size and capacity, and a possible competitor canal in Nicaragua, may mean that the term “Post-Panamax” could morph into “Post Panama Canal”.

About the author

Capt. Max Hardberger

Max Hardberger is a maritime attorney, flight instructor, writer, and maritime repo man. He has been a correspondent for WorkBoat since 1995. His memoir, Seized: A Sea Captain’s Adventures Battling Scoundrels and Pirates While Recovering Stolen Ships in the World’s Most Troubled Waters, was published by Broadway Books in 2010. He’s appeared on FOX, The Learning Channel, National Public Radio and the BBC, and has been the subject of articles in Fairplay Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, Men’s Journal, Esquire (UK), and the London Sunday Guardian.

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