Thursday, February 7, 2013

Container and Bulk Freight Shipping Stands by as the Panama Canal Grows in Capacity

A Century on New Panamax Vessels will shortly be a Reality
Shipping News Feature

PANAMA – With its 100th anniversary fast approaching (2014) the Panama Canal Expansion is moving forward to reach its goal of bolstering the waterway's capacity in order to provide a better service to customers and to date, the programme is 50% complete. When the centenary of the Canal is reached it will be carrying vastly more freight than was ever envisaged. The huge container vessels and Panamax sized tankers which pass through daily mean around 300 million tonnes of shipping a year travelling a route which was envisaged originally to reach a maximum capacity of 80 million tonnes two decades after it construction.

Works, some major have always gone on throughout the last century but the Expansion Programme will be the largest project at the Canal since its original construction and will double its capacity to allow more freight and passenger traffic coining the name for a new class of larger vessels able to transit the waterway, the ‘New Panamax’. Panama Canal Administrator Jorge L. Quijano said:

"The program continues to progress and reach milestones while we focus the next phases on building the locks. We estimate based on the progress that we can begin commercial transits mid-2015.”

Dredging of the navigational channels has been completed, this included both Canal entrances, on the Pacific and Atlantic sides, as well as Gaillard Cut. The dredging of the Pacific entrance consisted of widening the navigational channel to a minimum of 225 metres and deepening to 15.5 metres below mean low water level. The existing Atlantic entrance navigation channel was widened from 198 metres to a minimum of 225 metres and the north access channel to the new locks on the Atlantic side widened to a minimum 218 metres. The remaining dredging work to be done in Gatun Lake is expected to be completed this year.

The excavations of the Pacific lock access channel are 70% complete. This project calls for the excavation of more than 50 million cubic metres of materials along a 6.1 kilometre run to be executed in four phases. Three of the four phases have been completed and the fourth phase is 69% complete.

In addition, the first shipment of 47 valves, to be used for the operation of the third set of locks, arrived during the last couple of weeks. These valves are part of the Post-Panamax locks electromechanical system that will regulate water flow between the chambers, the culverts and water-saving basin conduit. By the end of 2013, a total of 158 valves (culvert, equalisation and conduit), 84 bulkheads and 328 trash racks will have arrived for the project. The valves were built in South Korea by Hyundai Samho Heavy Industries.

So far 37% of the new lock construction has been completed. The new lock complexes in the Pacific and Atlantic sides will feature three chambers, three water-saving basins per chamber, a lateral filling and emptying system and rolling gates. The Panama Canal Authority (Autoridad Del Canal De Panama - ACP) is closely monitoring progress on every component of the Expansion Program to guarantee that contractors comply with the quality required by each contract.

Financing arrangements for the new works have been in place since December 2008 when a group of five multinational institutions signed agreements with the ACP to procure up to US$2.3 billion required for the Expansion Program. These included the Japan Bank for International Cooperation ($800 m), the European Investment Bank ($500m), the Inter-American Development Bank ($400m) and $300 million each from the Andean Development Corporation and the International Financing Corporation.