With the first commercial transit of the USD 5.25 billion Expanded Panama Canal the Neopanamax containership COSCO Shipping Panama launched the long-awaited inauguration of the waterway.
The inaugural transit began with the passage of Neopanamax vessel COSCO Shipping Panama through the Agua Clara Locks on the Atlantic side of the country and concluded with its transit through the Cocoli Locks on the Pacific side. The ship, which left the Greek Port of Piraeus on June 11, is en route to Asia.
Originally named Andronikos, the vessel was renamed by China COSCO Shipping as it was selected during a draw for the inaugural transit through the expanded waterway.
The Expanded Panama Canal is now officially open for business, and the regular schedule of transits through the canal is expected to start on June 27.
“More than 100 years ago, the Panama Canal connected two oceans. Today, we connect the present and the future,” Panama Canal Administrator and CEO Jorge L. Quijano, said, adding that “this is the beginning of a new era.”
Quijano further said that there are currently “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.”
The Expansion Program is the canal’s largest enhancement project. It included the construction of a new set of locks on the Atlantic and Pacific sides of the waterway and the excavation of more than 150 million cubic meters of material, creating a second lane of traffic and doubling the cargo capacity of the waterway.
While the expanded locks are 70 feet wider and 18 feet deeper than those in the original canal, they use less water due to water-savings basins that recycle 60 percent of the water used per transit.
The expanded canal is expected to reshape global shipping routes, increasing shipping traffic to the U.S. East Coast.
World Maritime News earlier spoke to a representative from the Panama Canal Authority (ACP), Argelis Moreno De Ducreux, Executive Vice-President for Planning and Business Development, Liner Segment, to find out more on the expected impact of the new canal on the shipping industry.
De Ducreux said that the expansion of the Panama Canal is already having an impact on the maritime industry, and it is expected to shift the trade patterns of entire nations.
“Shipping lines, port facilities, rails and distribution centers from different regions are getting ready to take advantage of the larger and more efficient ships. Shipping lines are getting bigger in their fleet composition and the canal expansion will allow them to deploy those larger vessels through the waterway. Furthermore, ports in the East and Gulf Coast of the United States, some of which serve vessels up to 9,000 TEU, are adapting their infrastructure to allow even larger ships to come ashore,”she said.
“Ports in the East and West Coasts of Central and South America are preparing to also increase their share of the commercial trade by taking advantage of the widening of the Panama Canal,” De Ducreux added.
At the beginning of June, the Panama Canal’s contracted vessel, the 2011-built Neopanamax dry bulk carrier MN Baroque, started performing lockages through the expanded locks for testing and training purposes, scheduled to last for 30 days.
The lockages are testing the integration of the gates, their opening and closing capabilities as well as the valve opening and closing through the controls system.
The Panama Canal Expansion Inauguration ceremony will serve as the official inauguration of the two new lock complexes, Agua Clara (Atlantic side) and Cocoli (Pacific side), and their access channels.