|Images from our Panama Canal Transit|
Developing a water passage across the Isthmus of Panama uniting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans dates to the early 16th century.
We won't attempt to cover the history here. Instead, we will focus on a milestone which occurs this year, the 100th anniversary of the Panama Canal and the status of expansion plans to bring the canal into its next 100 years. For information on the canal's history, please see the official Panama Canal site.
Panamax specifications have been in effect since the opening of the canal in 1914. Ships that do not fall within the Panamax-sizes are called post-Panamax. Currently ships that are a maximum of 965 feet long and 106 feet wide (beam) can pass through the canal. That typically means the older and smaller ships in a cruise lines' fleet are the only ones that can make the transit. Ships like the Allure of the Seas or the Solstice-class ships are not among them. The new locks would open up possibilities for the larger cruise ships to complete the transit.
There are four major parts to the expansion plans. The purpose of the expansion is to enable post-Panamax vessel transit of the canal.
- construction of two new sets of locks - one on the Pacific and one on the Atlantic side of the Canal
- widening and deepening of existing navigational channels in Gatun Lake
- deepening of Culebra Cut
- new 6.1 km-long access channel to connect the Pacific locks and the Culebra Cut
Each lock will have three chambers and each chamber will have three water re-utilization basins.
For complete details about the plans, see PANAMA CANAL EXPANSION PROGRAM MARCH 2013 (PDF).
Overall, the Expansion Program is 72% complete and at this time, is expected to be open to commercial transits in the second half of 2015.
The contractor for the new locks, Grupo Unidos por El Canal S.A. (GUPC), is currently threatening a work stoppage due to $1.6 Billion in cost overruns. The ACP, the autonomous agency of the Government of Panama in charge of managing, operating and maintaining the Panama Canal, has proposed advancing $100 million to GUPC to allow the contractor to tend to its pending obligations. The contractor must guarantee these funds through a letter of credit. In addition, ACP is willing to extend for a period of two months the moratorium for the repayment of $83 million in advances by GUPC. These would give an additional $83 million for GUPC.
Full story: Panama Canal Proposal to Jointly Contribute $283 Million to New Locks Project