How the Expansion of the Panamá Canal Will Benefit the Port of Houston

panama canal expansion
The Panamá Canal is considered by many to be one of the seven wonders of the modern world. This 48-mile ship canal connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and is an enormously important conduit for international maritime trade in connecting the Americas and Asia.

The canal is currently under a $5.5 billion facelift. The waterway is being widened, the walls of the canal reinforced, and a wider lane of locks will be installed, among other modernizing features. In all, this project will double the canal’s capacity.

This is all great news for the Port of Houston and the greater Houston area. The canal expansion is expected to usher in a seismic shift in trade routes, and Houston stands to win big. The Port of Houston may very well beat out West Coast ports in bringing in foreign cargo, giving the city a leg up in distributing goods countrywide.

Keeping Up with Global Consumer Demand

During the canal’s opening year in 1914, about 1,000 ships passed through it. In 2008, more than 14,702 vessels did. This tremendous rise in the number of ships is not the only thing that has changed over the course of the past century.

Today’s global demand for shipped goods means that the size of the boats has dramatically increased too. The expansion of the canal is being done in part to accommodate new super-sized ships.

The New Panamax ships can carry 13,000 standard shipping containers – or TEUs. Most ships carry about 5,000 TEUs. Yes, that’s right. These new ships will be able to carry 260% more than a standard ship.

The expansion project is currently about 96% complete. The canal is slated to be re-inaugurated as a symbol of the completion of the expansion project in April 2016.

What This Means for Houston

The Panamá Canal connects Houston to two significant global trade regions. Through the canal, Houston-based manufacturers receive goods from and ship goods to a number of Latin American countries, particularly those along the western coast of South America.

The canal also gives Houston access to east Asian trading powerhouses, such as Japan, China, South Korea, and the Philippines. The cluster of Houston factories that stretch over 50 miles from the east side of downtown to the Gulf Coast export a considerable amount of raw materials to these Asian nations. Factories in these countries then use the materials to make a huge variety of products. Many of those goods are shipped back to Houston and distributed throughout the US, or line the shelves of our local stores.

About 25% of the Port’s container business derives from Asian markets. With the expansion of the Panamá Canal, there is an expected 5-6% annual growth in trade between Houston and Asian markets over the next few years.

To accommodate this growth in trade, the Port of Houston will be going through its own expansion. Three major changes have been put into effect to allow for more goods to move in and out of our port.

First, parts of the bay adjacent to the port have been dredged to accommodate the massive New Panamax ships. Second, the port’s loading docks are getting bigger to provide more container room. Third, larger cranes are being installed that are over 300 feet in height, so that cargo can be picked off the top of the massive vessels.

There are other aspects to this $314 million project, all of which are designed to modernize the port’s facilities to keep up with the region’s projected growth.

Protecting Maritime Workers’ Safety

The expansion of the Panamá Canal and the Port of Houston is a good sign of employment security for local maritime workers. These projects will equate to more future jobs – jobs that ensure that the expanded port is maintained and that the ships and cargo safely move in and out of the port.

Here at Pierce Skrabanek, we want the best for the maritime workers who keep the Port of Houston thriving, and help run the ships that cruise our waterways. If you or someone you love has been injured while performing maritime work, let us fight for you. We have been successfully representing maritime workers for decades and look forward to using our expertise to help you.

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