Canal busy despite hike in toll fees

PANAMA CITY, Panama -- Despite some grumbling, cruise lines are not rushing to pull their ships from the Panama Canal in the wake of an increase in transit fees.

As reported, the tolls are being increased in two phases: an 8% boost on Oct. 1, followed by an increase of about 4.5% in July. There also will be an additional locomotive towing fee.

Princess Cruises had said a rate hike would have a "detrimental effect" on canal cruises in the future, but the line is going ahead with a plan to double the number of Panama Canal cruises for the 2003-2004 season. The line does not anticipate any deployment changes, said Dean Brown, executive vice president of sales and customer service.

Holland America Line, which has several Panama Canal offerings, has not altered its 2003 plans.

Matthew Sams, HAL's vice president of Caribbean relations, said, "There's still a lot of room to talk" with the Panamanian authorities. "We continue to work with the Canal Authority and demonstrate how we differentiate from the cargo users."

The rate hikes, when combined, total an additional $15 to $20 cost per passenger, depending on the size of the vessel, he said.

Neither line has decided how, or if, passenger pricing will be affected.

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