San Francisco: The expanded Panama Canal is ready for water to begin filling one of its new locks, starting on Thursday.
The area around the new Agua Fria locks in Gatun, on the Atlantic coast, will be the site of the preliminary tests, the Panama Canal Authority said on Tuesday. Builder GUPC is carrying out the extensive upgrade to the canal’s system of locks.
It is expected it will take between three and five months to fill the first lock, an indication of the vastness of this project, which became necessary because of the rapid trend towards ever larger vessel sizes in the industry.
This expansion project involves the construction of a third lane of traffic, hence a third set of locks, which will allow the passage of larger vessels and effectively double the Canal’s capacity. When complete it should be able to accommodate containerships up to 14,000 teu and 97 per cent of the current global merchant fleet.
The cost of the project has ballooned to $5.25bn. But expansion was an economic necessity for the Canal’s survival as a viable and essential conduit between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. About five percent of global maritime trade passes through the Canal.
According to official schedules the expanded Canal should be ready for its inauguration in April 2016.