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Record TEU Transits Panama Canal on CMA CGM Boxship

record container volume transits Panama Canal
CMA CGM Zephyr set a new record for the number of containers onboard during a transit (Panama Canal Authority)

Published Aug 2, 2022 7:38 PM by The Maritime Executive

A new record was set for the largest container volume to transit the Panama Canal on a single ship when a CMA CGM containership transited the Neopanamax Locks in July. While not the largest containership to make the transit, the CMA CGM Zephyr (156,100 dwt) passed through with only feet to spare while carrying a record 16,285 TEU.

The year-old vessel is the first of a new class of containership CMA CGM began introducing in 2021. She measures 1,200 feet in length and has a beam of 167 feet. While the Panama Canal Authority did not report the vessel’s draft during the transit, she regularly operates at over 48 feet while the Neopanamax Locks since May 2022 due to various water conservation methods have been operating with the highest permitted draft for vessels of 50 feet. That was increased by half a foot from the low in March 2022 during that dry season when the limit was set at 49.5 feet.

“While the Neopanamax Locks were initially expected to serve vessels with a maximum of 12,600 TEUs, the Panama Canal team quickly surpassed this threshold, thanks in part to the experience gained operating the locks and its close collaboration with customers,” said the Panama Canal Authority. They are highlighting the transit as the Neopanamax Locks mark their sixth anniversary.

The CMA CGM Zephyr is currently operating on the Manhattan Bridge route after being introduced in August 2021 sailing between Asia and the Middle East. She is making 77-day round trips between Qingdao, Ningbo, and Shanghai in China along with a call in Busan, South Korea before transiting the Panama Canal and calling at New York, Norfolk, and Savannah.

The record transit was completed on July 1 during a return trip from the U.S. East Coast to Asia while she was likely carrying a larger number of empties. The vessel is rated with a capacity of 15,536 TEU. The previous record was also set by CMA CGM in 2017 when the CMA CGM Theodore Roosevelt carried 14,863 TEU through the canal.

“There’s no better way to mark the anniversary of the Expanded Canal than with this month’s Zephyr transit, which exemplifies the continued growth potential that it offers for our clients,” said Panama Canal Administrator Ricaurte Vásquez Morales. 

While the Zephyr is now the largest by cargo capacity to transit the waterway, the record for the largest vessel by dimension is held by the containership Triton, which since 2019 has been operating under charter to Evergreen. The Triton is 10 feet longer than the Zephyr but smaller in her dwt at 153,000 and has a standard carrying capacity of 14,424 TEU.

The expansion of the Panama Canal completed in 2016 remains the largest project since the construction of the canal. Today, containerships are the leading users of the third set of locks, contributing 45 percent of all transits with the Panama Canal Authority reporting currently that 96 percent of the world’s containerships can be accommodated in the Neopanamax locks.