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The Panama Canal - Will you need Just-in-Time Arrival?

StormGeo Shipping Insights, March 2016
By Martin Shields, Managing Director of StormGeo Europe

The creation of the Panama Canal is without doubt one of mankind’s great achievements as it was undertaken at a time when such construction projects relied greatly on human endeavor rather than mechanical capability. It took over 30 years to complete from when it was started by the French in 1881 and at a conservative guess cost more than 22,000 workers lives due to disease and accidents. The original canal was officially opened on 15 August 1914 with the passage of the cargo ship SS Ancon.

As a waterway the Panama Canal has continued to be developed and today can accept what are generally referred to as Panamax sized vessels that fit into the available locks at either end of the canal. These Panamax vessels come with maximum dimensions of Length 294.13M, Beam 32.31M and a Draft 12.04M.

Although delayed in opening, it is expected the new locks, which began construction in 2007, will be operational and accepting vessels for the first time in June 2016.
This third new set of locks will increase maximum vessel capability to Length 366M, Beam 49M and Draft 15.2M. In terms of container vessel capacity this will see vessel size increase up to between 13,000 and 14,000 TEU, double the average size of container vessels transiting the canal at this time.

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At this time it is expected that the vessel traffic using the Panama Canal will increase. Wait times will likely remain constant or even increase in the short term as the Panama Canal Authority come to grips with the operation of the new locks.

What has this to do with the services provided by StormGeo?

The Panama Canal Authority operates a booking system where companies can book a transit time in the canal for their vessel up to 365 days in advance. There is in addition a sliding scale of charges that increase nearer to the desired time of transit. The number of transits that can be booked are severely restricted, so that if there is no booking, vessels will be allowed through the canal on a first come first served basis.

The number of vessels waiting to transit is dependent not just on the number of vessels waiting, but can also be influenced by the weather conditions and canal maintenance. It is therefore vital that arriving vessels meet any booked transit slots, as a cancelled slot can result in costs between hundreds and hundreds of thousands of dollars.

StormGeo has been providing Optimum Ship Routing Services for the past 20 years. One of the services offered is AWT Routing®, ETA Service, where a vessel must achieve a specific required time of arrival. While the service is referred to in the business as an ETA service, “estimated” is a common misnomer as the arrival time is fixed. If not achieved, heavy penalties will result; hence the fixed time must be met.

As with any such service, achieving the required arrival time is not the hard part. Simply sailing at a high speed and arriving with plenty of time to spare can achieve this. The tricky part is optimizing the arrival time to achieve a ‘Just-in-Time’ arrival while consuming the least amount of fuel, thereby optimizing the efficiency of the vessel.

It is only with access to long range, accurate weather, sea and current data combined with in-depth individual vessel performance criteria that such services can be achieved in a timely and cost-effective manner. Not only can StormGeo have the vessel arrive in time at the canal thereby ensuring there is no cancellation fee to be paid, we can also ensure the vessel arrives using the minimum amount of fuel thereby saving costs and GHG emissions.

Learn more about AWT Routing®, ETA Service and see how we can help you meet your fixed arrival time at the Panama Canal.