Many questions remain on whether the economics of the expanded waterway will prove attractive for LNG shipments

Owners and operators wanting to send an LNG carrier through the expanded Panama Canal are starting to get a feel for the costs but many questions remain.

Those following the toll structure process suggest the price of a round trip is likely to total around $800,000 for a 175,000-cbm ship. But they say it is unclear whether this will cover other items such as security and booking fees.

While the toll structure is key to companies costing the shipping elements of projects, the scheduling is also creating some concern, particularly as LNG carriers will not be afforded any priority bookings. “The other surprising thing is there will only be six ship movements of any kind in each direction per day,” said a potential user.

One consultant has calculated that if one LNG carrier per day transited the waterway only around 25 million tonnes per annum of LNG would move through the canal.

TradeWinds first revealed in December early details of the long-awaited proposed toll structure for LNG carriers transiting the expanded Panama Canal.

The ships, as expected, will be charged by cargo-tank capacity as opposed to a vessel’s gross tonnage as is the case for Suez Canal transits. Vessels in ballast are deemed to be those carrying up to 10% of their cargo volume to accommodate the heel needed to keep vessels cool. A special reduced ballast rate would be offered to operators undertaking a round trip.

Commenting on the option to use the expanded canal from when it opens in 2016, one LNG sector player said: “It is not going to change the industry overnight but it is going to be another dynamic.”

Industry body the Society of International Gas Tanker & Terminal Operators (Sigtto) is due to publish its much-hyped document, Guidance for LNG Carriers Transiting the Panama Canal, before the end of this month.

The guide, which will cost £125 ($212), has been put together by a Sigtto technical working group and is being billed as likely to be of use to shipping companies planning to transit the expanded waterway.

Currently, its dimensions allow for the passage of just 7.2% of the world LNG-carrier fleet. After the expansion, 81% of the LNG fleet and the world’s VLGC tonnage will be able to make the transit.