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1st container ship arrives at JaxPort via new Panama Canal

Newly expanded Panama Canal boosts business from Asia to East Coast

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The first container to come to the Jacksonville Port Authority through the new Panama Canal arrived Tuesday.

The MOL Majesty, a 991-foot neo-Panamax vessel, docked at TraPac Container Terminal to load and unload containers with everything from clothes to electronics to furniture.

The newly expanded Panama Canal has been boosting business for the shipment of goods from Asia to the East Coast. Before the expansion, large container ships from Asia could only travel through the Suez Canal.

JaxPort CEO Brian Taylor said it’s a step toward the future of transporting goods from Asia.

“This signals this new trend that’s going to occur at East Coast ports where larger and larger ships are going to be serving the East Coast trade from Asia,” Taylor said. 

Taylor attended the inaugural opening of the new Panama Canal three weeks ago.

“It was very exciting to see the new technology, more energy efficient, more environmentally efficient,” Taylor said. “I was pretty impressed.”

The more than $5.5 billion project expanded the locks of the Panama Canal to 60-foot depth, allowing larger ships to pass through with more cargo. The new “post-Panamax” ships can now transport up to 15,000 containers, which is three times more than what they used to carry.

“For us, more ships, more cargo means jobs and economic growth for Northeast Florida and for Jacksonville,” Taylor said.

Dennis Kelly, regional vice president and general manager of TraPac, said the MOL Majesty was too heavy to stop in JaxPort fully loaded.

“Had to go up to Savannah first and lighten up the cargo because they have two more feet of water. That’s how critical it is. Ships don’t like to backtrack. It takes time, money and fuel, so it’s not a good business decision,” Kelly said.

Savannah has already begun deepening its port, and Charleston still needs congressional approval for its dredging project.

If JaxPort wants to stay competitive, Taylor said, the St. Johns River needs to be dredged.

“If we want to stay in the game and remain in the Pacific Asia business, it’s going to require us to deepen our channel to accommodate larger ships than this coming forward,” Taylor said. 

There is still funding and more approval needed to start the dredging process. In April, the St. Johns Riverkeeper group filed a petition against the state Department of Environmental Protection over the proposed dredging of the St. Johns River. A hearing is expected to be held sometime in September.