Panama City: The much-delayed widening of the Panama Canal should be complete and ready for operation by April 2016, AFP reports.
An international group, Grupo Unidos Por el Canal (GUPC), is the contractor responsible for the design and construction of the Third Set of Locks – the main project of the canal expansion program.
This extensive upgrade to the canal’s system of locks will allow the waterway to accommodate freight ships triple the current size.
GUPC now says final testing on 16 new locks will begin in June, and that finishing touches on the construction work would be complete by January next year, according to Canal Administrator Jorge Quijano.
The group includes Sacyr Vallehermoso of Spain alongside Impregilo of Italy, Jan De Nul of Belgium and Constructura Urbana, SA (CUSA) of Panama. Each company is a leader in its field.
Upgrades began in 2007 and were scheduled to be completed in 2014 for the 100th anniversary of the canal, but the work has seen repeated delays.
Initially projected to cost $5.25 billion, the project was reported in January to have incurred an extra $2.39 billion in overruns.
About 5% of global maritime trade passes through the Panama Canal, whose main users are the US and China.
The trend towards larger container ships is driving a boom in canal development in Central America.
Work is under way on a $50bn canal project in Nicaragua which would be three times the length of Panama’s and could handle even larger ships but the project has drawn dire warnings from ecologists about possible environmental effects.