In 2006, the Panamanian government authorized expansion of its famed Canal. Construction began in 2007. The goal of the expansion project is to double the Canal’s maritime capacity by 2016.
The Canal Expansion Project
As the Panamanian government has explained:
“The Panama Canal Expansion is the largest project at the Canal since its original construction. The project will create a new lane of traffic along the Canal through the construction of a new set of locks, doubling the waterway’s capacity. The existing locks allow the passage of vessels that can carry up to 5,000 TEUs. After the expansion the Post-Panamax vessels will be able to transit through the Canal, with up to 13,000/14,000 TEUs. The Expansion will double the Canal’s capacity, having a direct impact on economies of scale and international maritime trade.”
“The Panama Canal expansion is based on six years of research, which included more than 100 studies on the economic feasibility, market demand, environmental impact and other technical engineering aspects. Works on the Panama Canal Expansion began on September 2007 at a total cost of US $5.2 billion.”
The maiden voyage through the expanded Canal is slated for June 26, 2016.
The components of the Canal expansion project include:
- New Locks (Third Set of Locks)
- Pacific Access Channel
- Improvement of Navigational Channels (Dredging)
- Improvements to Water Supply
The original Canal has two lanes, each with its own locks that lift ships 85 feet to the main elevation level of the Canal. Each lock system is nearly 2 miles long.
The expansion includes two new sets of locks, one on the Pacific Ocean side, and one on the Atlantic Ocean side.
Pacific Access Channel
The new Pacific channel connects the Culebra Cut valley with the new, third set of Canal locks.
49 million cubic meters of material had to be excavated to construct the Pacific Access Channel.
There are two new access channels that connect the new Pacific-side locks with the existing channels—the 3.9 mile north access channel, and the 1.1 mile south access channel.
Water Supply Improvements
The new Canal locks have water-saving basis that reduce the amount of water needed during lock operation.
The water saving basins divide the lock chamber into five equal “slices.”
When an operation begins, the chamber is filled once from Gatun Lake.
When the chamber is emptied, the top three slices are emptied into three basins at progressively lower elevation. Thus, water slice one is emptied using valves and gravity into a basin that is the same level as slice 2, slice 2 is emptied into a basin the level of slice 3, and slice 3 is emptied into a base at slice 4 level.
Water slices 4 and 5 empty into the next lock chamber and are lost.
After the ship is moved upward and the chamber is closed, water from basin 4 fills slice 5, basin 3 fills level 4, and basin 2 fills level 3. Levels 2 and 2 are filled from Lake Gatun.
As a result of this savings mechanism, only 12 feet of water are lost instead of 30 feet over the chamber area.
Dredging The Panama Canal
The Canal will be dredged to widen and deepen it.
In addition to the Pacific Access Channel changes outlined above, a 2 mile access channel was excavated to connect the new Atlantic locks with the existing channels.
The new channels are more than 715 wide, which will allow Post-Panamax vessels to navigate through in a single direction. Post-Panamax vessels include supertankers and the largest modern container and passenger ships, which previously could not travel through the Canal.
Gatun Lake is also being raised 1.5 feet to provide 165,000,000 gallons of additional water per day.
What Size Vessels Can The Expanded Panama Canal Accommodate?
The new Canal will be able to accommodate vessels that are 1201 feet long and carrying 120,000 Deadweight tonnage (DWT) in weight. Previously, the Canal could only accommodate 950 foot vessels and 52,500 DWT.
Maritime Injury Attorneys at Morrow & Sheppard Can Assist
The Canal expansion will inevitably lead to more traffic in the maritime, train and rail, and trucking arenas. Unfortunately this will, in turn, lead to more accidents and injuries.
The transportation injury lawyers at Morrow & Sheppard assist victims of vessel, train, and 18 wheeler incidents nationwide. If you or a loved one needs help, please call us at 1-800-489-2216 for a free consultation. It would be our privilege to discuss your case for free in a confidential setting.