The third lock expansion



Richard Joy, Commissioning Editor, Port Technology International, London


In a 2006 national referendum, the Panamanian people voted in a majority of 80% in favour of expanding the Panama Canal. Positioned in its strategic location balancing trade between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, an expanded canal promises at least 45,000 additional jobs and to inject a massive boost into the local economy, with income estimates ranging between US$5-6 billion a year for Panama. To understand the sheer scale of the canal in the context of global commerce, it is worth bearing in mind that approximately US$9 trillion transits the canal on an annual basis, with the canal interlinking 1,700 ports in 160 countries.

Since its inception, the canal has allowed the eponymous Panamax-sized vessels to travel through its waters. However, in an evolving industry which now uses increasingly large megaships, and with ever-increasing demand for use of the canal which causes bottlenecks and lengthens waiting times, expansion was paramount, especially if Panama wanted to move into the future with potentially the most important and lucrative tradecanal in the world. Søren Skou, CEO of the world’s biggest cargo shipping company Maersk Line, has spoken of the expansion, indicating how a large waterway is vital in providing supply-chain efficiencies for both developing and emerging economies, with Panama taking the necessary steps to  continue writing the history books for thenext chapter of international trade.

And that next chapter is not far off. By December 2015 the canal is primed to have two new sets of locks – one on the Pacific side and one on the Atlantic side of the canal – each equipped with three chambers, and each chamber having three water-saving basins. The added locks mean a new transit lane will bein place specifically for New-Panamax ships, which have been specially created to achieve maximum capacity through the expanded canal, and that is a figure is almost triple the figure that is currently possible. Given the current expanding economic climate, the expansion arrives at an ample time for Panama, with the canal countenancing a multitude of challenges. Nearby Nicaragua recently awarded a 50-year concession to the Hong Kong-

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