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.
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 places 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 route of the first order 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 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.
Specifically, the ACP will calculate container segment tolls with a slight price adjustment to the capacity charge, and an additional new charge that would apply 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 will be effective April 1, 2011.
Tolls in 2011 will be as follows: