A proposed revision of tolls by the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) would raise rates charged for liquefied natural gas (LNG) and liquid petroleum gas (LPG) carrier transits while lowering rates for some container ship transits.
Wood Mackenzie’s Andrew Buckland, principal analyst for LNG shipping, said the proposed higher rates for LNG transits would not have a significant effect on cargos leaving the Gulf of Mexico. An approximately 15% increase in the toll works out to just under 3 cents/MMBtu added to the freight rate from the Sabine Pass terminal in Louisiana to Japan, he told NGI.
The canal makes more revenue from LNG carriers than from the much smaller LPG carriers, Buckland said. The new rates for LPG carriers represent a bigger increase and look as though they are intended to shift some of these cargos to smaller vessels that can transit the canal’s older locks. This would free up capacity in the larger locks for LNG and for container cargos, which are more lucrative than LNG, Buckland said.
ACP released its proposal last week. The new tolls for LNG vessels would maintain the previously established cubic meter measurement of cargo capacity as well as four volume “bands” that were established last year when previous tolls for LNG carriers were set following their proposal in 2015.
The laden toll for the first band, up to 60,000 cubic meters, would increase to US$2.88/cubic meter from $2.50. The toll for the next 30,000 cubic meters would be $2.47, up from $2.15; the toll for the next 30,000 cubic meters would be $2.38, up from $2.07; and the last band would increase to $2.25 from $1.96.
The ballast tolls for the same bands would be $2.56, up from $2.33; $2.16, up from $1.88; $2.07, up from $1.80; and $1.97, up from $1.71, respectively.
Tankers transiting the canal and then returning from their destination with ballast could be subject to new round-trip tolls for the respective bands of $2.30, up from $2.00; $2.10, up from $1.75; $1.84, up from $1.60; and $1.73, up from $1.50. Return trips with ballast must be made within 60 days of the laden trip to qualify for the special tolls.
ACP’s proposal gives examples of tolls that would be paid by an LNG carrier with capacity of 170,000 cubic meters. The laden toll would be $430,800. The ballast toll would be $379,000. A round-trip toll for such a carrier would be composed of $430,800 for the laden portion and $340,000 for the return trip ballast portion.
The tolls apply to the canal’s panamax and neopanamax locks.
Since the expanded canal opened at the end of June 2016, more than 1,400 neopanamax vessels have transited the new locks, ACP said. About 44% of these transits were by full container ships. LPG carriers accounted for nearly 30%, and LNG carriers represented about 8%. Making up the remainder were drybulk vessels, vehicle carriers and tankers, ACP said in its tolls proposal.
Proposed lower tolls for container vessels on their southbound journey through the canal are intended to incentivize more of such traffic, ACP said.
“The toll adjustment of the LPG gas carrier vessel segment takes into account the traffic behavior of the panamax and neopanamax vessels and therefore introduces a separation of the toll structure, creating a new tariff for the panamax locks and another for the neopanamax locks,” ACP said. “In addition, an increase in [LPG] toll rates for panamax and neopanamax locks is proposed.”
The authority said it regularly analyzes canal costs and their effect on total voyage costs. Commodity prices are considered as well as canal traffic trends among other factors.
Through recent meetings with customers in Asia, Europe and North America “...extremely valuable industry information was gathered, allowing us to better understand the challenges faced by individual market segments, and the projected demand for the neopanamax locks,” ACP said.
The opening of the neopanamax locks last year ushered in the transit of LNG vessels. Six of the first 15 involved vessels with beam lengths between 120 and 140 feet. The remaining nine transits were made by vessels with a beam length of 140 feet or more.
“The main route of LPG and LNG vessels originates mainly in the Gulf of Mexico bound for Asia in vessels up to 84,000 and 180,000 [cubic meters], respectively, of cargo capacity,”
Even with higher tolls, LPG and LNG shippers will continue to benefit from the shorter route to market facilitated by the canal, ACP said. “The new toll proposal for the LPG and LNG segment does not significantly impact the competitiveness of trade in products transported through the Panama Canal,” it said.
A consultation process and public hearing on the proposed tolls are scheduled to be held on July 5 in Panama City, Panama. Written comments are due by July 3.