Panama Canal expansion

By Steve Skinner18 November 2008

Canal and locks extended to increase freight
The Panama Canal is without doubt one of the greatest feats of engineering ever undertaken. With the present canal reaching its maximum capacity ambitious expansion plans are underway. Richard High reports.
Construction was originally started by a group of French investors in January 1882. By the time their efforts petered out in May 1889 22000 men had died and almost 60 million m3 of earth and rock had been excavated.
However, such was the demand for a shorter trading route between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans – a trip around Cape Horn could take about 70 days – that the US government took up the cudgels in 1904 and the canal was finally finished in 1914.
At present the canal handles 5% of the world’s seaborne freight annually, with the canal’s locks able to handle container ships with a maximum capacity of 4500 TEU (20-foot equivalent units). Larger, faster 12600 TEU container ships are now increasingly common on the world’s oceans so expansion of the canal and locks is needed.
Started in 2007, the program has four main components:
• the construction of a third set of locks, including two lock complexes and water-saving basins at each end of the canal,
• the dredging of the canal entrances on the Atlantic and the Pacific,
• the deepening and widening of the existing navigation channels,
• the raising to the maximum operational level of the Gatun Lake, which provides fresh water for the waterway.
The expansion is expected to cost US$ 5.25 billion, with the Autoridad del Canal de Panamá (ACP), the autonomous government-owned entity that manages and operates the 77 km canal, planning to raise about US$ 2.3 billion in loans. The remainder will be covered with cash flow generated by the operation of the canal.

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