Thursday, July 24, 2014

Another Milestone as Freight Community Awaits Opening of Canal to Larger Shipping

(But Could Panama's Aspirations be Diluted by the Plans of Others?)
Shipping News Feature

PANAMA – The ongoing Panama Canal Expansion project has reached another important milestone in its aim to meet the expected demand in traffic growth and keep up with the requirements of the international freight and shipping community, by transferring the first of the huge lock gates to the new complex on the Atlantic side of the project. The latest achievement comes nearly five years after work started on an expansion fraught with problems from labour disputes and cost overruns which has led the Panama Canal Authority to push back its provisional completion date from October of this year to Late 2015/early 2016.

The good news for now at least is that the Panama Canal Expansion Program is currently 77% complete with the first gates moved to the new locks. Panama Canal Authority (ACP) Administrator Jorge L. Quijano explained that the process was carried out following rigorous safety measures to ensure that the more than 3,000-tonne steel structures could be moved to the dry lock chambers using the pavement ramp built for this purpose. He added:

"This is a very important operation because it involved the first movement of the gates from the special dock where they were unloaded to the lower chamber of the new locks."

Eight of the 16 rolling gates that will be used for the new locks are already in Panama and in the next couple of days, these gates will be moved from the temporary unloading dock to the dry lock chambers to be able to use the area for the arrival of the remaining lock gates. The remaining eight will arrive in two separate shipments from the manufacturer’s Cimolai, site in Italy, one in October 2014 and the other around February 2015.

Looming like a shadow over the scheme are the plans coming out from Nicaragua which would see the country build its own canal, something which could have a detrimental effect on the future of the Panama Canal, not only diluting the Panamanian share of traffic but possibly starting a rate war whilst, if the Nicaraguan plan were to go ahead, it would be better able to handle the ever larger vessels which are currently being built.

The proposed canal would pass through Lake Nicaragua, Central America's largest lake, and will be between 230 metres and 520 metres (755 feet to 1,706 feet) wide and 27.6 metres (90 feet) deep. It would be three times longer than the 77 kilometre Panama Canal and would handle vessels up to 49 metres (160 feet) wide, 366 metres (1,200 feet) long and 15 metres (50 feet) deep, or with a cargo volume of up to 170,000 DWT and 12,000 TEU. In addition, Nicaragua has announced an ambitious time scale and reckons that the canal will be finished by 2019 with operations to start in 2020.

Photo: One of the huge lock gates rolling into place.