Yesterday, the Panama Canal marked another milestone with the transit of the first-ever liquefied natural gas (LNG) carrier through its expanded locks.
Shell-chartered Maran Gas Apollonia—measuring 289 m in length and 45 m in beam—arrived Monday from the Sabine Pass LNG Terminal on the US Gulf Coast.
“The transit of the first LNG vessel through the new Panama Canal locks is a milestone in the waterway’s history,” said Panama Canal Administrator and CEO Jorge Quijano. “LNG trade will greatly benefit from the expansion, and we look forward to welcoming even more LNG vessels through our great waterway. This transit marks the beginning of a new era that will result in cleaner and lower cost energy for the world.”
The expanded canal can accommodate 90% of the world’s LNG tankers, the canal administration claims, saying in a release it “will have a major impact on global LNG flows and offer numerous benefits to shippers”.
For example, with the United States poised to become one of the world’s top LNG exporters in the next five years, the canal will allow vessels departing the US East and Gulf Coast for Asia to enjoy significant reductions in voyage times (up to 22.8 days roundtrip), making US gas deliveries to major Asian importers very competitive. Vessels departing the US Gulf Coast for the West Coast of South America will similarly experience notable time savings.
In addition, LNG ships from the production plants in Trinidad and Tobago could head to Chile where LNG is regasified and distributed for energy-producing purposes. For this route, the expanded canal provides savings of 6.3 days in transit time compared to the Magellan Strait.
Providing further advantage, the canal instituted a new tolls structure to offer substantial cost savings to LNG vessels conducting roundtrip voyages. The new tolls reduce ballast fees for LNG customers who use the same vessel for a roundtrip voyage as opposed to using an alternate route, so long as the transit in ballast is made within 60 days after the laden transit was completed.
The LNG news was slightly soured by reports carried in a variety of mainstream news sources yesterday that claimed three ships have scuffed the walls of the canal since it opened a month ago.
Some groups have claimed the new locks are too small for safe operations now that the canal can take ships three times larger than before, something the canal authorities dispute.