The incredible expanded Panama Canal

By Marijulia Pujol Lloyd

The expanded Panama Canal celebrates its third anniversary on June 26, 2019. Since its completion it has become a green route that is commonly used by shipping companies that send their mega ships through this waterway.

The construction of a third set of locks is the biggest endeavour undertaken by Panama since the inauguration of the original Canal in 1914.

The project took seven years (2009-2016) and cost $5,581 million. It was built by the Spanish company Sacyr.

The locks of Cocoli, on the Pacific and Agua Clara on the Atlantic, doubled the capacity of the Panama Canal and added a third lane for the transit of larger ships as well as increasing the number that can pass at the same time. They are wider and deeper than those in the original Canal.

The locks of Cocoli and Agua Clara

The new locks have allowed the transit of megaships.

The new locks have allowed the transit of megaships.

The original canal has two lanes, each with its own set of locks. The expansion project added a third lane through the construction of lock complexes at each end of the canal. One lock complex is located on the Pacific side, southwest of the existing Miraflores Locks.

The other is located east of the existing Gatun Locks. Each of these new lock complexes have three consecutive chambers designed to move vessels from sea level to the level of Gatun Lake and back down again.

Each chamber has three lateral water-saving basins, for a total of nine basins per lock and 18 basins in total. Just like the original locks, the new locks and their basins are filled and emptied by gravity, without the use of pumps.

The location of the new locks uses a significant portion of the area excavated by the United States in 1939 and suspended in 1942 because of World War II. They are connected to the existing channel system through new navigational channels.

The new lock chambers are 427 m (1,400.92 ft) long, 55 m (180.45 ft) wide, and 18.3 m (60.04 ft) deep. They use rolling gates instead of miter gates, which are used by the original locks.

The rolling gates were selected because it is proven technology and used in almost all existing locks with dimensions similar to the new Panama system.

The new locks use tugboats to position the vessels instead of electric locomotives. As with rolling gates, tugs are successfully and widely used for these purposes in locks of similar dimensions.

Water saving features

The new locks have water-saving basins to reduce the volume of water that is needed in lock operation. The operation of both the old and new locks uses gravity and valves. There is no pumping involved.

Operation of the locks, old and new, uses water from Gatun Lake. Even in the current situation with two lock lanes, water supply can be limited at the end of Panama’s dry season when the lake’s water level is low.

Three basins are associated with each lock chamber. The volume lost per cycle is two-fifths of the “moving water” chamber volume. The other three-fifths is reused. An equal savings of water, based on the same principle, could be reached by adding more lock chambers.

Canal Profitability

More LNG tankers are using the expanded Canal.

More LNG tankers are using the expanded Canal.

The Panama Canal administrator, Jorge Luis Quijano, said in the Annual Report of the ACP that after the period ending fiscal year 2018, the Panama Canal recorded a record of 442.1 million PC/UMS1, which represents an increase of 9.5 percent with respect to the 403.8 million PC/UMS of the previous fiscal year.

In addition, transits increased by 247 vessels, 1.8 percent more vessels. The ACP also increased reliability to eight in the number of daily reservation slots.

The main users of the waterway are the United States,China, Mexico, Chile and Japan. In terms of cargo tonnage percentage, the main routes were between Asia and the East Coast of the United States, the East Coast of the United States and the West Coast of South America, the East Coast of the United States and West Coast of Central America, Europe and the West Coast of South America and between Asia and the East Coast of Central America.

In 2018 the Canal collected $3.172 billion in revenues, $286 million more than the previous fiscal year, of which $2.970 billion correspond to tolls and transit services, $68 million to electric power sales, $34 million to potable water sales, $36 million to miscellaneous income, and $63 million to earned interest and other financial income.

Total toll revenues were $1.818 billion, including fee per net ton, public utilities fees and depreciation, $41.6 million less than the budgeted figure. This performance made it possible to achieve a record of $1.703 billion in direct contributions to the National Treasury.

The future

It is expected that this year will be better than 2018, with more LNG tankers using the Canal as well as bulk carriers. Up to April 2019, 6,000 neopanamax ships went through the waterway.

More than 50 percent have been from the container segment. Liquefied petroleum gas (LPG) vessels constitute another 26 percent, and LNG vessels make up 11 percent. Dry and liquid bulk carriers, car carriers and cruise ships make up the remaining transits.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *