The expansion of the Panama Canal, involving the work of the Spanish company Sacyr Valle Hermoso and Panama’s Constructora Urbana, will allow the transit of vessels with three times the amount of cargo currently using the canal when expansion is completed in October 2014.
“I think it will be one of the milestones in the engineering projects of this century,” said the manager of electromechanical work, the Spanish engineer Sergi Ametller, of the consortium Grupo Unidos por el Canal (GUPC), which also includes the Italian company Impregilo and Belgium’s Jan de Nul, responsible for dredging a third channel to join the two existing ones.
The expansion is costing $3.2 billion for two new channels, one on the Atlantic and the other on the Pacific, through which ships will sail carrying 12,600 containers and will be 366 meters in length, increasing Canal capacity from a peak of 4,400 containers and ships of today at 294 meters.
Each of the new channels will connect with three water chambers with their locks that will lift ships 27 meter between the two oceans and Lake Gatun in mid channel; Ships will advance to balance the water level between adjacent chambers.
The gates being built for the new Panama Canal locks are the most technically complex part of the project and will be equivalent in height to a 20-story building.
According to project leaders, the expansion will allow a ship to pass through the waterway on each side in about two hours and to complete its passage through the Panama Canal in an average of 10 hours and, in exceptions, eight.
The difficulty of extending the canal lies in the dimensions of the work, which will have 158 gates and 16-valves, weighing a total of 50,000 tons, which today are being built in factories of the Italian company Cimolai, near Venice.
“The gates are the most technically complex part of the project,” noted Ametller Efe, who explained that, while those in the existing canal are hinged, the new gates will roll, and their height will be equivalent to a 20-story building, so that a good portion of their interior will be empty so they can be dragged to close and open the chamber.
As explained by the Spanish engineer, the gates operate in a dual system to ensure that in case of breakdown, the branch continues to operate and have different sizes depending on the ocean side where they are located.
“The biggest will be on the Pacific side due to more seismic hazards and because the tides are higher,” noted the manager, who said that they are being made with “100% European steel” from Italy, Czech Republic, Macedonia, Germany and Poland, and will begin to move by ship to Panama in “fours” during 2013 for testing in early 2014, and the project will be completed in October 21, 2014.
The largest of these gates is 33 meters high and weighs 4,300 tons, and the installation of the structures will begin on the Atlantic side once the concrete base has been built on which they will be placed through a mechanism calculated to the millimeter by engineers who designed the Canal enlargement.