The present expansion of the Panama Canal will not be its last, said Alberto Alemán Zubieta, immediate past commissioner of the Panama Canal Authority, after accepting the Containerization and Intermodal Institute's Connie Award at the annual luncheon at the Newark Club on Monday. Aleman, a construction engineer who assumed the helm of the PCA in 1998, oversaw the design and present $5.25 billion expansion until his retirement in September.
As the project continues, he noted, the increasing size of new vessels will mandate yet another expansion. The existing project will allow the canal to handle ships up to 13,000 TEU. More fuel-efficient ships and the increasing price of bunkers are bringing 18,000-TEU ships onto the seas "and we must have Panama Canal locks that can handle them. We must have one more expansion," he said.
Mr. Alemán said he was pleased how well the people of Panama have embraced the canal's transition from U.S. to Panamanian control. "I worked to convince the Panamanian people of the importance of keeping the canal running for the benefit of world trade and of convincing global shipping lines that Panamanians could manage it."
"There was global doubt about Panama's ability to run it," he said. "We had to change the culture of the way the industry looked at the canal." He also had a major role in persuading the people of Panama to approve the expansion project in a national referendum. Ultimately, he said, Panama approved the referendum by a vote of 80 percent to 20 percent against. "When the new locks open in 2015, it will be the beginning of a new era for Panama," he said.
His Connie Award was presented by James Newsome, who heads the South Carolina State Ports Authority, himself, a Connie recipient in 2010. The Port of Charleston, like other harbors on the East and Gulf Coasts, are expected to benefit by the expansion of the canal. CII's President, Allen Clifford, said: "To be in charge of the cornerstone of the global transportation system, and a model of excellence, efficiency and integrity is a monumental task; to be able to present Mr. Alemán with a Connie is a monumental honor for CII."
Since leaving the PCA, Alemán has established a consulting firm, ABCO Global in Panama City, Panama. He will consult on maritime infrastructure projects, particularly in Latin America.