Panama Selects New Operator for Balboa Shipyard

new operator for Panama's Balboa Shipyard
Balboa Shipyard located on the Pacific side of the Panama Canal (AMP)

Published Aug 10, 2021 3:07 PM by The Maritime Executive

Panama selected the Spanish group Astilleros Canarios (Astican) to take over the operations of the Balboa Shipyard as part of a long-term plan to rehabilitate the operations of the shipyard. Restoring full operations would be an important step for the shipping industry as it is the only shipyard able to handle large ships on the Pacific Coast of Central America.

The Panama news outlet La Prensa is reported that the Panama Maritime Authority (AMP) has entered into a 20-year agreement for the operation of the Balboa shipyard. The newspaper said that the Spanish company was the only company to complete the bidding, which had begun in February seeking a new operator for the yard. AMP had reported in March that 12 companies inspected the yard as part of the bidding process.

Astican will establish a new company, Astilleros Puerto Balboa SA (Astibal) which will receive the 20-year concession with a winning bid of $14.4 million. The contract calls for the rehabilitation, development, and administration of the Balboa shipyard. A spokesman for the company told the newspaper that they plan to invest a further $20 million to upgrade the facilities. It will be their first operation in Panama and once the yard is fully operational, they expect it will support 4,000 direct and indirect jobs.

Located on the Pacific side of the Panama Canal at the southern entrance next to the container yard, the Balboa Shipyard is the largest facility between California and Chile. It has three dry docks including one capable of handling Panamax vessels. It is located at the site of the former U.S. operation, which dates to the opening of the Canal in 1914. It was among the operations returned to Panama when the U.S. lease on the Canal ended in 1979.

Private companies had been operated the yard for Panama until 2018 when a dispute with the operator, MEC Shipyards, led to Panama removing the manager and closing the yard. Partial operations were resumed in the summer of 2020 with approximately 300 workers and two of the yard’s three dry docks.

Astilleros Canarios is a privately owned ship repair yard located at Las Palmas in the Canary Islands. Established in 1976, the yard provides repair, maintenance, and conversion for all types of vessels, structures, marine renewable energy devices and offshore units.