A new report from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers highlights a "lack of post-Panamax capacity at U.S. Gulf and South Atlantic ports – the very regions geographically positioned to potentially be most impacted by the expected changes in the world fleet."
Space on post-Panamax containerships will account for 62 percent of the world container capacity by 2030, up from 45 percent today, and will call U.S. ports in increasing numbers, said the Corps in the study
ordered by Congress last year.
The report, prepared by the Corps' Institute for Water Resources on the impact of the larger locks being added to the Panama Canal noted "U.S. population is expected to grow by almost 100 million over the next 30 years, with most of the growth in the southern and western regions of the nation."
"Along the Southeast and Gulf coasts there may be opportunities for economically justified port expansion projects to accommodate post-Panamax vessels," the Corps said, but it said investment opportunities at specific ports will need to be individually studied.
"U.S. West Coast ports at Seattle, Oakland, Los Angeles and Long Beach all have 50-foot channels. Northeastern U.S. ports at Baltimore and New York have or will soon have 50-foot channels. In the Southeast, Norfolk has 50-foot channels. South of Norfolk along the Southeast and Gulf Coasts there are no ports with 50-foot channel depths, although Charleston with a 45 foot channel depth and nearly 5 feet of tide can accommodate most post-Panamax vessels. This is also the region with the greatest forecast population and trade growth," the report said.
It noted that at Savannah, the Corps "has identified an economically viable expansion to accommodate post-Panamax vessels. This project is estimated to cost $652 million dollars."
The Corps also said potential transportation cost savings of using post-Panamax-size vessels to ship agricultural products to Asia through the Panama Canal may lead to an increase in grain traffic on the Mississippi River for exports from Gulf ports.
The Corps said its analysis indicated the current Mississippi River capacity is adequate to meet potential demand if the waterways serving the agricultural export market are maintained. It said a need for lock capacity expansion is not indicated. - Chris Dupin