The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) celebrated the inauguration of the US$5.4bn canal expansion in the presence of President Juan Carlos Varela, Panama Canal CEO Jorge L. Quijano, foreign dignitaries, other officials, journalists and members of the public.



The ceremony was held on Sunday as the Chinese-owned Neopanamax vessel Cosco Shipping Panama (pictured), carrying 9,472 containers, became the first ship to pass through the newly expanded waterway.

The construction project, which involved building two new sets of locks and carrying out dreading work, took almost a decade. Capacity of the canal is now double what it was and it can now handle post-Panamax vessels. It was originally due to open in 2014.



While the new locks are 70ft wider and 18ft deeper than those in the original Canal, they use less water due to water-savings basins that recycle 60% of the water used per transit, ANP said.

"More than 100 years ago, the Panama Canal connected two oceans. Today, we connect the present and the future," said Quijano, according to statements on ACP's website. "It is an honor to announce that what [sic] we did it together: providing this great connection to the world. This is the beginning of a new era."

"We are thrilled that we currently have 170 reservations for Neopanamax ships, commitments of two new liner services to the Expanded Canal, and a reservation for the first LNG vessel, which will transit in late July," Quijano said. "Our customers care that their supply chain is reliable and that they have a diversity of shipping options. And the Canal has always been reliable; today, we offer the world new shipping options and trade routes."

Panama hopes with the expansion that its canal, the most important source of investment for the country, will stay current as Nicaragua looks to build its own interoceanic alternative.



In the week prior to the inauguration, the New York Times, however, said an investigation it had conducted found the "canal's future is cloudy at best, its safety, quality of construction and economic viability in doubt ..."

"In simple terms, to be successful, the new canal needs enough water, durable concrete and locks big enough to safely accommodate the larger ships. On all three counts, it has failed to meet expectations, according to dozens of interviews with contractors, canal workers, maritime experts and diplomats, as well as a review of public and internal records," the paper said.


Source: BNamericas