Since the Panama Canal opening in 1914, vessels have paid tolls to transit the waterway.
Starting on October 1, 1994, tolls have been based on the Panama Canal Universal Measurement System (PC/UMS), which in turn is based on the international standard of vessel admeasurement established by the International Convention of Measurement of Ships of 1969.
As the Canal was transferred to the Republic of Panama by the end of 1999, the Canal business management went from a break-even model to one oriented towards client satisfaction, reliability and profitability.
Tolls are the fees paid by ships to use the Canal. In general, tolls are determined by ship measurements parameters. The adopted system follows the precept of article 315 of the Political Constitution of the Republic of Panama to the effect that the Panama Canal "shall remain open to the peaceful and uninterrupted transit of vessels of all nations," is consistent with the principles of International Law, and ensures equal treatment for all users of the waterway.
The Panama Canal Authority has issued the required regulations to implement the new measurement and toll procedures and the setting of tolls, rates, and fees for the transit of vessels through the Canal.
The tonnage measurement system in use in the Canal, for the most part, is known as Panama Canal Universal Measurement System (PC/UMS), following the rules of the 1969 International Convention on Tonnage Measurement of Ships.
To determine net Canal tonnage, this system applies a mathematical formula for the measurement of total ship volume. A net Panama Canal ton is equivalent to 100 cubic feet of volumetric capacity. The appropriate rate is applied depending on whether the ship is laden or in ballast (empty). The "laden" rate is applied to ships carrying cargo or passengers, and the "ballast" rate is applied to ships that are not carrying passengers or cargo. For a ship to be applied the "ballast" (empty) rate, it may not carry fuel for its own consumption beyond the volume of the certified tanks with the official mark for liquid fuel. Other floating craft, including warships with the exception of military and naval transports; colliers; supply vessels; and hospital ships are charged on the basis of their actual displacement tonnage. One displacement ton is equivalent to one long ton or 35 cubic feet of salt water.
In October 2002, Panama adopted a new
Canal tolls structure. The structure in force until then, which dated
back to 1912, was based on a rate per ton applicable to all ships. The change
was based on ship size and type and provided for separate locomotive usage
rates. This more equitable system that is now is applied according to
the transit needs of each ship, allows each vessel to be charged for the
specific services it uses.
In 2005, the ACP implemented a change in its admeasurement system applicable only to full container vessels and those vessels with container-carrying capacity on-deck. The full container vessel adjustment modified the traditional measure utilized as the charge basis for these vessels, from PC/UMS Net Ton to a twenty feet container, or TEU (“twenty-foot equivalent unit”) and established the total TEU capacity, including on-deck, as the basis for the new charge. The implementation was conducted over three years, beginning on May 1, 2005, and culminating on May 1, 2007.
For other vessel types with on-deck container carrying capacity, the ACP continues to apply the PC/UMS tonnage to measure the enclosed spaces and spaces below deck, and charge a per TEU fee to the actual number of containers carried on-deck, in accordance with the first table.
Prior to the implementation of the new system the ACP charged full container vessels for a small portion (8.78%) of the cargo transported on-deck and applied the PC/UMS net ton to enclosed spaces and below deck.
In 2007, continuing with the price differentiation efforts begun in 2002, the ACP modified its regulations for the admeasurement of vessels and the tolls system of the Panama Canal to more closely align Canal toll charges to the value of the route. In the case of passenger vessels, the ACP assessed tolls based on the maximum passenger capacity in accordance with the International Tonnage Certificate 69, or the vessel’s passenger ship safety certificate; vessels over 30,000 gross tons and whose PC/UMS ÷ maximum passenger capacity ratio is equal to or less than 33 were charged on a per berth basis. Following are the tolls in effect from 2007 to 2009:
The segmentation system by vessel type
and size enhanced the possibility for the Panama Canal Authority to offer new
products to the various market segments, and placed it in a position to
competitively improve its services to users. Likewise, it allowed the
Canal to continue its modernization program in order to remain as a key route
for world trade, and a strategic resource for the social and economic
development of Panama.
During informal consultations between November 2009 and April 2010, the ACP presented to the industry a new price structure. Upon consideration of the suggestions received, the ACP developed a new proposal, choosing to postpone the implementation of the new tolls until January 2011.
On the basis of discussions with industry representatives, shipping lines, and government representatives, as well as the Canal’s own internal analysis, and in view of the the global economic situation, the ACP decided not to proceed with a tolls adjustment in 2010 and set January 1, 2011 as the new date for implementing the tolls for all segments except reefers.
Specifically, the ACP calculated container segment tolls with a slight price adjustment to the capacity charge, and an additional new charge applicable to the number of loaded containers aboard the vessel at the time of transit. The reefer segment increase portion applicable to the PC/UMS tons was effective April 1, 2011.
The approved 2011 tolls were as follows:
The segmentation scheme has been a key element in the design of the Panama Canal price structure. The ACP is continuously evaluating the value of the route through Panama against other alternatives for each segment. An analysis of the value of the route by segment has revealed that among the vessel types established in 2002, there are significant differences in modes of operation and types of cargo transported, which merited a reconsideration of their definition.
In order to continue to more closely align Canal toll charges to the value of the route, it was approved to: (1) redefine the tanker segment in three segments, petroleum and petroleum products tankers, gas vessels that carry LPG (liquefied petroleum gas) and chemical vessels, each with its own specific vessel type; (2) redefinition of the vehicle carrier segment whereby the ro-ro vessels are incorporated into the vehicle carrier segment, given that the value of the route is the same for these two vessel types, to be known from now on as the “Vehicle Carrier and ro-ro” segment.
It was approved to increase in general terms, the tolls of the specifically identified segments, in accordance with the structure presented in the following table:
Furthermore, the following adjustment was approved , effective October 1, 2012, for tolls applicable to small vessels: