With the Panama Canal expansion complete, New Panamax-sized ships are now transiting the Caribbean, and the port of Cartagena welcomed its first mega-vessel last week. The colossal, 980-foot-long MSC Brunella, a Mediterranean Shipping Company ship capable of carrying 8,800 containers, arrived on July 6 with a larger potential cargo load than any boat has ever brought to a port in Colombia.
“Now, ships of up to 14,000 containers can cross the Panama Canal, creating new interoceanic routes that are reorganizing and revolutionizing the industry by increasing the arrival frequency of these ships to our port,” said Alfonso Salas Trujillo, head of the Regional Port Society of Cartagena.
According to Colombian news outlet El Universal, the port of Cartagena has been undergoing a series of renovations for more than a decade at a cost of nearly $1 billion USD as ships have increasingly grown larger. It has also invested some 2.5 million hours in logistics training for staff, helping itself to learn to handle boats as enormous as the MSC Brunella.
The Panama Canal expansion — the so-called “third locks project” — was completed this summer and the new, wider channel opened on June 27. In all, the transformation cost more than $5 billion USD and took almost a decade to complete. And in addition to adding an extra lane to prevent traffic at the canal’s entry and exit points at peak times, it allows for much larger vessels to traverse the hemisphere’s only passage between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
As in Cartagena, ports throughout the region have been preparing for the new era of New Panamax ships for years. Many have needed extensive dredging and expensive equipment modernization in order to handle such mega-ships. The risk of failing to prepare is that ships have many options to dock. So if a port cannot receive today’s giant vessels, they can simply go somewhere that can.
The port of Cartagena is one of the most heavily trafficked in the region. In 2014, it was one of just five in all of Latin America to handle more than 2 million TEUs in cargo, according to the United Nations’ Economic Commission for Latin American and the Caribbean (CEPAL). The only ports in the region that handled more cargo volume were the two ports on each side of the Panama Canal — Balboa and Colon in Panama — as well as Santos in Brazil and Manzanillo on Mexico’s Pacific coast.
Photo: Shipping containers shit in the port of Cartagena. (Credit: Pe-sa)