JaxPort agreement seeks tighter bond with Panama Canal Authority

Tuesday, April 20 2010 @ 01:54 PM UTC

Contributed by: Don Winner

(AP) By David Bauerlein - The Florida Times-Union, Jacksonville - The Jacksonville Port Authority will underscore its connection with the Panama Canal when it signs a marketing agreement this week with the Panama Canal Authority. JaxPort will not spend any additional money for marketing as a result of the agreement, spokeswoman Nancy Rubin said. But the partnership means Jacksonville will join some other East Coast and Gulf Coast ports that previously signed similar partnerships with the Panama Canal Authority. JaxPort Chief Executive Officer Rick Ferrin is traveling to Panama this week to sign the memorandum of understanding with Alberto Zubieta, CEO for the Panama Canal Authority. Ferrin said Jacksonville will be "in the hunt" for its share of the additional cargo that will go through the canal after the current expansion project is finished around 2016. ''We've got to do whatever we can to distinguish ourselves from the rest of the pack," he said today.

The memorandum of understanding will commit JaxPort and the Panama Canal Authority to join forces in marketing the advantages of shipping cargo between Asia and the East Coast via the canal. Currently, the biggest cargo ships that travel from Asia to the West Coast cannot fit through the canal, but the enlargement will let those ships travel through to the eastern side of the country. The agreement also calls for JaxPort and the canal authority to share trade data and market studies that would help each gain business from the bigger canal. The Panama Canal Authority has signed similar agreements with some other ports on the East Coast and Gulf Coast, including Tampa Port Authority in 2005 and Georgia Ports Authority in 2003.

Editor's Comment: The largest ports on the Western, Pacific coast of the United States will undoubtedly lose some of their market share once the greatly expanded Panama Canal commences operations in 2014. Larger container ships from Asia that before could not fit through the Panama Canal would use ports such as Long Beach, Los Angeles, Oakland, Portland, Seattle, and Tacoma. Their cargo was then taken to the rest of the country either by rail or truck. However, the cheapest way to move cargo is still by boat, so now these huge container ships carrying 15,000 TEU or more will be able to pass through the greatly expanded Panama Canal. Before, Panamax vessels were those with a maximum length of 965 ft (294.13 m), a maximum beam (width) of 106 ft (32.31 m), and a maximum draft of 39.5 ft (12.04 m) in tropical fresh water, height of 190 ft (57.91 m) measured from the waterline to the vessel's highest point. After the expansion is completed, all of these vessels listed as the largest container ships in the world that could not pass through, all of a sudden will have the Panama route as an option where it didn't exist before. So, instead of having to put in a Long Beach or what have you, they can steam straight to Houston or Tampa or Baltimore or Jacksonville, straight from Asia. There will be winners in this new trade, as well as losers. I imagine that some jobs will be lost at West Coast ports, while new ones will be created at East Coast ports. And of course it's all good news for Panama, because the Canal will be seeing new customers and business that they could never handle before.

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