The Panama Canal has undergone a massive $5.25 billion expansion that allows for the transit of ships with significantly more capacity than before.
Since the expansion, the Panama Canal has received 250 reservations and major liners have rerouted service to the canal to take advantage of the significant time savings the waterway provides, Panama Canal authorities said. 2M Alliance, which includes shipping liners Maersk and Mediterranean Shipping Co., announced in July that it is rerouting Asia to U.S. East Coast service to the Panama Canal.
"We are very pleased with the first month of operations at the expanded canal since the inauguration," said Jorge L. Quijano, administrator and chief executive officer of the Panama Canal. "The increasing demand is further evidence of the maritime industry's continued trust in the expanded canal, and the great impact it will have on the future of world maritime trade."
Canal operational testing and training remains a priority. More than 50 trial lockages have taken place in the Agua Clara Locks with the Panama Canal-chartered Neopanamax dry bulker, MV BAROQUE, since the beginning of June. The vessel is used to conduct testing and training of the new locks. Pilots transiting the Neopanamax vessels are experienced, with at least 16 years transiting vessels at the Panama Canal, the Panama Canal authorities said.
"We look forward to setting more milestones and making more progress to meet and exceed our customers' expectations and the quality of service they have come to expect at the Panama Canal," Quijano said. "Our commitment to our customers and the maritime industry is paramount."
The expansion program is the canal's largest enhancement project. In 2006, more than 75% of Panamanians approved the project in a nation-wide referendum, and, in 2007, construction began. Construction included 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. The new locks, which cost $2.75 million, are 70 feet wider and 18 feet deeper than previous locks, but use less water due to the recycling of 60% of the water used in each lockage.
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.