The Panama Canal Expansion Project – What, Why and When

"_DSC1125" by guzaraya is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0
“_DSC1125” by guzaraya is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 

The Panama Canal Expansion – What, Why and When

The Panama Canal Expansion Project (Spanish: ampliación del Canal de Panamá) finally reached completion after several delays, in June 2016. The project added a 3rd lane and set of locks to the Panama Canal. We share some interesting facts on this gigantic achievement.

Photo Credit: Panama Canal Authority Panama Canal Expansion ProjectPhoto : www.micanaldepanama.com 

1. The reason for Panama Canal Expansion Project

In April 2006, then-Panamanian President Martín Torrijos said it would transform Panama into a world-class country. It remains hopeful that the expansion will bring in the economic gains the country needs to prosper.

The original Canal completed in 1914 had limited capacity as it was built to accommodate ships of that time. In the 100-plus years that have passed, shipping volumes have obviously increased dramatically, as have transit times and hence congestion. The canal was further constrained by operational time and lock cycles, as well as maintenance required on the aging canals.


2. What did the project include?

The completed project saw the following additions:

  • A new shipping lane now exists with two new sets of locks. One lock complex is located on the Pacific side, southwest of the existing Miraflores Locks. The other is located east of the existing Gatun Locks. They serve both oceans
  • Newly excavated channels dredged to the new locks
  • Existing channels widened and deepened
  • The maximum operating water level of Gatun Lake raised
  • As with the original locks, the new locks and their basins will be filled and emptied by gravity without the use of automated pumps
  • The locks are located on the area excavated by the United States in 1939, suspended in 1942 in the wake of World War II
  • The new lock chambers are 427 m (1,400.92 ft) long, 55 m (180.45 ft) wide, and 18.3 m (60.04 ft) deep, which allows for the New Panamax (or Neo Panamax) sized vessel to pass. These dimensions now allow for an estimated 79% of all cargo-carrying vessels to transit the canal
  • The new locks use rolling gates instead of the miter gates used by the original locks
  • Tugboats are being used in the new locks to position the vessels instead of the electric locomotives used by the old locks

Watch this incredible Official Time Lapse Video of the Panama Canal Extension Project for an understanding of the scale of this project :

3. When was the project undertaken?

The Panama Canal Expansion project should have been completed by August 2014, perfectly timed to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the opening of the Panama Canal. Inevitable setbacks pushed the completion out to 2016 and the newly expanded canal was officially opened on 26 June 2016.  The US dispatched a navy ship to Panama during the crossing of the first vessel through the new locks, the “Cosco Shipping Panama”. This was an interesting show of force.

Panma Canal Expansion Project

Photo : www.twitter.com/thepanamacanal 

4. The Future Projection

The Panama Canal Authority predicts that the volume of cargo transiting the canal will grow by an average of 3% per year, doubling the 2005 tonnage by 2025, according to our research.   In March 2018 it was announced that 3,000 New Panamax (Neo Panamax) ships had crossed the new canal expansion during its first 20 months of operation. We asked ‘Google’ the question “has the expansion changed anything” and found a fantastic reply by Toby Gooly on the DV Velocity Website. If the topic interest’s you it is well worth a read.

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