The following article was written by the staff of the National Maritime Intelligence Center.
On March 9th, 2011 the National Maritime Intelligence Center (NMIC) hosted a NMIC Interagency Advisory Group (NIAG) forum to discuss the potential impacts of the Panama Canal expansion in relation to global shipping, U.S. port operations and port connectivity to intermodal transportation systems across North America.
The NIAG is a 32-member advisory group consisting of partner U.S. Government (USG) departments, services and agencies which represent a whole of government approach on maritime concerns. The group meets monthly to tackle maritime information sharing impediments, Information Technology architecture compatibility, and intelligence analysis and collection requirements. It also ensures that the NMIC represents maritime intelligence polices and cross-cutting issues to the broader federal interagency in a coordinated and integrated fashion.
Significant emerging developments within the commercial maritime industry are affecting global trade and logistics, and, most importantly, port and intermodal transportation network systems in the United States, and all of North America. Perhaps the single most important industry driver in terms of trade and investment dollars is the expansion of the Panama Canal. This $5.25 billion dollar project (16% of Panama’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP)) is planned to double this vital waterway’s annual capacity from 300 million to 600 million vessel tons when the new sections are opened in 2014. The resulting greater cargo capacity will shift commercial supply chain logistics strategies and vessel deployments worldwide, and particularly in North America.
Background: More than 15% of maritime shipping cannot utilize the Panama Canal because the ships are too large for its original size. Meanwhile the number of even larger ships continues to grow. The new Panama Canal will alleviate this problem and more than double the size of current container ship cargos that are able to pass through. The canal’s expansion will have global ramifications and will increase both cost and time efficiencies of all-sea routing from Asia directly to U.S. East Coast population centers vice current West Coast routings coupled with follow-on rail transportation to the East Coast. Beginning in 2014, so-called “mega-ships” [with a roughly 12,500-Twenty Foot Equivalent (TEU) maximum container capacity], that heretofore could not use the Panama Canal, will have the choice of sending cargo to the Ports of Los Angeles or Long Beach for intermodal transshipment to the interior of the U.S., or transit the canal to proceed directly to ports such as Houston, TX;, Mobile, AL;, Gulfport, MS; Miami, FL; Norfolk, VA; Charleston, SC; Savannah, GA; or the ports of New York / New Jersey. As a result, North America’s intermodal transportation systems will change rapidly. State and municipal port authorities on the U.S. East and Gulf coasts are therefore investing hundreds of millions of dollars in expanded port infrastructure to compete for new business that will result from the canal’s expansion.
Working with the Maritime Industry: To deepen USG understanding and ensure a collaborative approach to the projected impacts of the canal expansion, NMIC brought together leading Maritime Industry experts to better inform NIAG’s government-wide membership. Speakers included: Rear Admiral Richard Larrabee, USCG, Ret., Director, Commerce Department, New York / New Jersey Port Authority; Mr. John Vickerman, President of Vickerman Associates, LLC, a firm specializing in the planning and design of port, intermodal and freight logistics facilities; and Captain Gordan Evans Van Hook, USN, Ret., Senior Director for Innovation and Concept Development, Maersk Line, Limited. Some key takeaways stressed by the panel were the importance of increasing information sharing between the public and private sectors pertaining to security matters and the vulnerabilities of the intermodal transportation network, not only to kinetic attacks, but additionally to the growing threat of cyber attacks which could also interfere with transmodal shipping.
Increased Awareness and Collaboration: Attendees were able to increase their knowledge of the potential impacts of the Panama Canal expansion. The event also helped foster critical information sharing relationships between the USG and private sector Maritime Industry partners.