Jude Rodrigues was the captain tasked with making the first transit through the expanded Panama Canal last month. Here he recounts the historic voyage.
On the morning of May 3, I was informed that our vessel, the 9,472 teu, Cosco Shipping Panama would make the inaugural transit of the expanded Panama Canal. On hearing this positive news all officers and crew were ecstatic and humbled at the prospect of inaugurating a $5.4bn effort that took 40,000 workers over 10 years to complete. The enormity of this task was clear, given that we would represent the aspirations of a great nation, the entire shipping fraternity including my fellow seafarers.
The pre-inaugural celebrations kicked off during our call at Piraeus on June 11, where we had the honour to greet a host of dignitaries including the Panama Canal administrator Jorge L. Quijano; Cristina De Papadikis, Ambassador of the Republic of Panama in Greece; Anton Hessenius, chief technical officer at managing owners, MC Seamax Management; and Ajay Kumar Chaudhry, executive director at technical managers, Fleet Management Limited. The highlight of this call was a celebratory lunch hosted by the charterers, Cosco Shipping at the terminal building.
We sailed from Piraeus to Cristobal, with calm winds and following seas throughout – as if destined to accomplish this historical moment. Our preparations for the transit started with information exchange with the Panama Canal authorities and Cosco Shipping agents at Panama.
It was ensured that the vessel was well prepared for all requirements of the Panama Canal, as we must. Soon, we arrived at the Cristobal anchorage and on the morning of June 25, we were boarded by inspectors and engineers of the Panama Canal, security forces of the Republic of Panama, and media personnel who set up their equipment for the worldwide broadcast of this historic event.
On June 26 at around 0524 hrs LT, the moment arrived when our beautiful lady commenced her journey into the expanded Panama Canal. Live music and cheering crowds greeted her entry into the Agua Clara locks – a moment that formally marked the official opening of the expanded Panama Canal. A commemorative plaque was presented to the vessel by the President of the Republic of Panama, Juan C. Varela.
The 50 mile journey from the Atlantic to the Pacific was covered in just half a day – a smooth transit ensured through excellent co-ordination, prudence and skill of the onboard team, ably assisted by the experienced team of Panama Canal Pilots.
At 2005 hrs LT, we exited the Cocoli locks – bidding farewell to the expanded Panama Canal and wishing it long lasting prosperity.
The expansion of the Panama Canal is a historic occasion not only for the people of Panama but for all citizens of our global village as also future generations who will benefit immensely from its grand vision. And I would like to thank our managing owners, MC Seamax Management; technical managers, Fleet Management Limited and the charterers Cosco Shipping for giving me and my team this wonderful opportunity.
I also thank our predecessors onboard this fine vessel who have professionally run her.