Ship operators and insurers face greater challenge as the Panama Canal moves closer to doubling the cargo-carrying capacity of vessels transiting the century-old waterway, marine insurer Allianz Global Corporate & Specialty (AGCS) said Tuesday.
A third lane for larger ships is expected to be completed next year, boosting the canal’s throughput to 600 million tons, the insurer said in a research report.
AGCS said the value of insured goods transiting the canal will increase by more than US$1 billion per day after completion of the project, which will enable about 4,750 additional ships to pass through the waterway annually, in addition to the current 12,000 ocean-going ships.
“Larger ships automatically pose greater risks. The sheer amount of cargo means a serious casualty has the potential to lead to a sizeable loss and greater disruption,” said captain Rahul Khanna, AGCS global head of marine risk consulting.
A fully loaded new-Panamax 12,600 teu (twenty-foot equivalent units) container ship is as long as four football fields with a beam of up to 49 meters and could have an insured cargo value of US$250 million, he said.
In the event of an accident, there may not be enough qualified experienced salvage experts to handle the new-Panamax ships, the report said.
And with more larger ships on the move in the surrounding region, an incident could also affect traffic at major ports in the United States and elsewhere, resulting in a potential increase in business interruption and insurance losses, it said.
AGCS said training is key to mitigating the new risks, both in the canal region and in affected ports.
“The expansion of the Panama Canal will represent a new shipping environment for many mariners… The level of training provided to pilots will be extremely important,” Khanna said.
Panama Canal marks its 100th anniversary on Aug. 15.
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