Byline: Capt. Pat Rains
PANAMA — Fees charged for all vessels that transit the Panama Canal are scheduled to increase dramatically on Oct. 1, so cruisers planning to “switch oceans” might want to plan their passage through the canal for September.
The minimum Transit Fee for “small vessels” (yachts) admeasuring 50 feet or less in length overall (LOA) will rise from $500 to $800. For yachts 51 to 80 feet LOA, the increase is from $750 to $1,300. For yachts 81 to 100 feet LOA, the transit fee doubles: from $1,000 to 2,000. For yachts longer than 100 feet LOA, the fee more than doubles: from $1,500 to $3,200.
Besides the Transit Fee, other fees are set to increase between 3 and 17 percent in October — including the Admeasurement Fee, the Transit Delay Fee, the AIS Rental Fee (for vessels larger than 65 feet LOA that don’t already have AIS) and the Buffer Fee (which is potentially all or partially refundable after transit, if you don’t do any damage to the Panama Canal). Additional hourly fees will be charged for the use of tugs, pilot boats and launches.
These fee increases for all vessels transiting the Panama Canal were proposed to begin July 1; but on June 27, imposition of the rate hikes was postponed until Oct. 1. The fee changes for small vessels were announced by Alberto Aleman Zubieta, CEO administrator for the Authority of the Panama Canal. Zubieta’s 50-page document also outlined fee changes that affect commercial shipping, to be implemented this fall, as well.
However, another across-the-board price hike is set to begin Oct. 1, 2013, affecting small vessels and commercial shipping. “Fourteen years have elapsed without any adjustments to the small vessels tolls,” Zubieta explained. “The ACP has concluded that it is necessary to modify this toll to incorporate adjustments not previously considered, given the size of the vessels.
“The adjustments will be applied in 2012 and 2013, which provides price certainty for a two-year period for the identified segments,” Zubieta said.
Meanwhile, the Panama Canal’s massive expansion project is in full swing. The Galliard Cut and buoyed routes through Gatun Lake are being widened, deepened and straightened to accommodate the largest “post-Panamax” ships, longer than 1,000 feet LOA.
When the expansion project is complete, yachts will continue to use the original two-lane locks at Mira Flores, Pedro Miguel and Gatun, but the largest ships will lock through at two new three-lane exclusion tanks that bypass the original locks.