The Panama Canal Expansion is the largest project at the Canal since its original construction. What were the main challenges that you overcame to deliver this huge project successfully?
The expansion of the Panama Canal posed great challenges from the technical, orographic, geological and climate point of view, which were overcome by innovation and dedication from both contractors and Panama Canal personnel. However, I would say that the most important and difficult challenge was winning over the support from the Panamanian population. According to the Constitution, the decision to go ahead with the expansion of the Panama Canal through the construction of a third set of locks required a national referendum. The challenge was to inform all Panamanians from all social classes of the need to invest in this project, instead of maintaining the status quo and cashing in the toll revenues.
For this purpose, the Panama Canal Authority formed a group of spokespersons who travel throughout the country explaining the project, its benefits to the country and to the world, as well as the financial and environmental aspects. I was part of that group that had the privilege to carry the message to our countrymen and obtained a positive result in the referendum back in 2006 with 70% of support.
The opening of new locks in the Panama Canal has changed the inter-basin LNG flows forever. How did you adapt to the LNG business to make the transit of LNG vessels possible?
This was a joint effort with the industry, which opened up to the Canal and shared its knowledge with us. The Panama Canal began its efforts by learning about the business attending conferences such as the CWC Group that allowed us to develop a wonderful network of very competent and experienced professionals. This effort began in the Market Research area of our organization and, as we learned more, we invited colleagues from the Vice-Presidencies of Operations and Environment to be part of what we called in-house the LNG Committee. Within this committee, we carried out risk assessments with the help of SIGTTO and several companies that gave us excellent insights on what to do to make the transit of LNG vessels possible without going to unnecessary and extreme security and safety measures that would have made it unviable otherwise.
How has the expanded Panama Canal impacted LNG shipping routes and travel time?
The Panama Canal has opened the gate between the Atlantic and Pacific coasts enabling savings of up to 15 days between the Gulf of Mexico and Trinidad to Asia on each leg in comparison with alternative routes. In addition, regional trade also benefits from these savings in routes such as Gulf of Mexico to Chile, reducing voyage time in 6.3 days on each leg. This opening will have an impact in voyage costs, evolution of trade, increased flexibility, as well as in LNG pricing and source diversification.
Panama Canal Authority has been shortlisted for the CWC LNG Award for Outstanding Contribution 2016. What does this nomination mean for you?
To the Panama Canal Authority, this nomination is a great honour because it represents a recognition from the industry as one of its own and reflects the acknowledgement of the efforts that the Authority has done to understand and enable this trade, and, in such effort, I stand together with my colleagues who set aside differences in our perspectives to work together as a team and welcome the LNG as a new market segment of the Panama Canal Neopanamax locks.
Panama Canal Authority are shortlisted for the CWC LNG Award for Outstanding Contribution 2016. The LNG Awards will take place on Tuesday 13th December as part of the CWC World LNG Summit.