Port open to post-Panamax ships

Post-Panamax ships up to 44 metres wide have been able to sail to the Port of Montreal since May 6. This could very well lead to greater amounts of cargo moving through the port.

The Colombo Express, operated by Hapag-Lloyd, is among the largest post-Panamax vessels.

A post-Panamax vessel is larger than a Panamax ship. But what is a Panamax ship? It’s a vessel that has a breadth of 32 metres, the same width as the Panama Canal. Shipping lines built vessels of this size in order to maximize cargo volumes through that waterway. But now, naval architects are working with new dimensions based on the expansion of the Panama Canal to a width of 49 metres. The project is scheduled for completion in 2014. A post-Panamax ship, therefore, is a vessel that is more than 32 metres wide.

In Quebec, the St. Lawrence River navigation channel between Quebec City and Montreal was wide enough for two Panamax ships to pass one another. When larger ships began to appear, they were able to sail up the river to the Port of Montreal if they followed special procedures. But the vessels could not be more than 40 metres wide. Now, the channel has been open to vessels up to 44 metres wide since May 6. How so?

No, the channel has not been widened. To understand how the Port of Montreal has been able to adapt to the changing realities of the maritime transportation sector, we must look at navigational tools that allow for a more precise assessment of navigational conditions. “In practice, we have made navigation more precise,” says Jean-Luc Bédard, vice-president of operations and harbour master at the Port of Montreal.

The result is that the Port of Montreal is now open to vessels up to 44 metres wide, with certain restrictions. There are restrictions at very specific locations in the channel where it is particularly tight for ships to cross or pass one another. There may also be restrictions at certain locations when there is a strong crosswind. In these circumstances, the post-Panamax ship must slow down and allow the other vessel to pass.

Jean-Luc Bédard, the Port of
Montreal's vice-president of
operations et harbour master


“We carried out simulations and held public consultations, and the pilots have been trained on the new procedures in place since May 6,” Capt. Bédard said. It was a lot of work, but it will benefit the Port of Montreal.

A wider ship can carry more cargo without increasing its draft – the vertical distance between the waterline and the lowest point of the hull. Because it is wider, its area of contact with the surface of the water is greater. Carrying an equal amount of cargo, its draft is less than that of a more narrow ship.

Economics also dictates that the more cargo a ship can carry on one voyage, the lower the transport cost for importers and exporters. Suddenly, maritime transport becomes even more attractive.

One container terminal, anticipating the arrival of post-Panamax ships, already has acquired bigger cranes that can load and unload these vessels.

The Port of Montreal is ready to welcome big ships. “When the global economy rebounds, we will be ready to handle greater volumes of cargo,” Capt. Bédard said.