Panama Canal Opens Its Locks to More LNG Vessels

The Panama Canal has confirmed its plans to lift self-imposed daylight and encounter restrictions on LNG vessels to provide additional transit opportunities.

Image Courtesy: Panama Canal

The changes, which will go into effect from October 1, 2018, would be made in anticipation of LNG transit needs, Panama Canal Authority’s Deputy Administrator Manuel E. Benitez said at the World Gas Conference in Washington, DC.

According to the canal, LNG transits at the waterway are expected to grow by more than 50 percent by the end of FY 2018 compared to FY 2017, for which it stands ready to receive.

“Lifting daylight restrictions means LNG vessels will be able to transit the locks at night – as vessels in other segments currently do,” Benitez explained.

“Lifting encounter restrictions means LNG vessels will be able to navigate Gatun Lake at the same time, allowing two different LNG vessels to transit the canal the same day in two different directions. Together, these changes will provide more flexibility and time during the day to transit LNG vessels, and result in an opportunity for LNG shippers to compete for a second booking slot.”

Currently, with these restrictions in place, the Panama Canal provides one dedicated reservation slot to LNG carriers per day. This equates to seven dedicated LNG booking slots per week. This is more than the current demand from LNG shippers, who average 5.5 transits per week.

In addition to the one dedicated slot, the canal frequently works with customers to transit vessels that arrive without a prior reservation, so long as the day’s vessel mix allows.

The waterway has regularly transited two LNG vessels the same direction in the same day, and demonstrated the ability to transit up to three vessels the same day in the same direction during periods of uncharacteristically high demand.

Over the past two years, the waterway welcomed a total of 372 LNG transits.