PANAMA CITY, PANAMA — A COSCO Shipping neo-panamax sized ship made the inaugural transit through the new locks of Agua Clara on the Atlantic Ocean side of the expanded Panama Canal on June 26. The ship will go through the canal and exit the newly expanded Cocolí Locks, on the Pacific Ocean side, where the official inauguration ceremony will take place.

The Panama Canal has undergone a massive $5.25 billion expansion that will allow for the transit of ships with significantly more capacity than before.

Originally called Andronikos, the ship was renamed Panama to honor the canal expansion. Juan Carlos Varela, president of Panama, and Jorge L. Quijano, administrator and chief executive officer of the Panama Canal, honored the nearly 40,000 workers who worked on the expansion of the canal.

"Our commitment to providing value to our customers remains paramount,” said Quijano. “In 2015, we broke our own record of 340.8 million dwt in the original canal. Today we are making history and improving global connectivity.” 

On June 11, COSCO Shipping sailed the Panama from the Greek port of Piraeus with a load of 9,472 TEUs; the ship measures 48.25 meters wide and 299.98 meters long. 

The expansion program is the largest improvement project for the canal. It included construction of new locks on the Pacific and the Atlantic oceans and dredging of more than 150 million cubic meters of material, creating a second lane of traffic along the canal, and doubling the capacity of the seaway. While the new locks are 70 feet wider and 18 feet deeper, they use less water thanks to the recycling of 60% of the water used in each lockage.

A major part of the expansion, costing $2.75 million, were the new locks to allow the wider, longer and more heavily loaded ships. Panamax ships, which have a draft of 39.5 feet or less, are currently the largest ships that can pass through the canal. Due to the expansion, ships with a draft of up to 50 feet are now able to pass.

It is expected that the expanded canal will drop the cost to transport grain from the U.S. Corn Belt to Asia by an estimated 12%, thus increasing the cost competitiveness of the U.S. as a grain exporter to Asia.

Considered and analyzed over a decade through more than 100 studies, the extension will provide greater economies of scale for global trade. It will introduce new routes, services and new segments, such as liquefied natural gas (LNG).