Construction of the Panama Canal expansion is 96% done, but officials this week said the estimated April opening for the $5 billion project would need to be pushed back again for several months.
The contractor is still working on adding steel reinforcements to the massive locks, which were found to have leaks last fall.
When the expanded canal opens, perhaps in June, it will offer a dramatic increase in shipping efficiency and cargo capacity for shippers. The new locks will be significantly deeper and wider, accommodating ships that are longer (1,200 feet versus 106 feet), wider (160 feet versus 106 feet) and with a deeper draft (50 feet versus 39.5 feet).
That translates into larger cargo volumes and ultimately, lower shipping costs.
According to Ken Eriksen, senior vice president at Informa Economics, a Panamax ship able to navigate the current canal would be about 70,000 to 75,000 deadweight tonnage, which includes the weight of the ship plus any cargo; a post-Panamax ship could go as large as 97,000 to 125,000 deadweight tonnage. In terms of containers, a Panamax ship could carry perhaps 4,500 containers. That number could jump to 14,000 for the bigger post-Panamax ships.
The Panama Canal first opened in 1914. Approximately 12,000 to 15,000 ships pass through the Canal each year, crossing between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
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