The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) announced this week that the inaugural transit and commercial opening of the Panama Canal expansion has been scheduled for June 26, 2016. The announcement was made during the inauguration ceremony of the canal's state-of-the-art Scale Model Maneuvering Training Facility, which provides hands-on experience to pilots and tugboat captains to operate in the expanded Panama Canal.
The ACP said the expansion program is currently 97% completed, with final testing to be conducted in the weeks leading up to the official inauguration of the expanded canal.
The original plan was to have the expansion project completed by August 2014 to coincide with the 100th anniversary of the original Panama Canal. However, a number of construction delays and disputes between the ACP and the contractors resulted in a series of delays. The original projected cost of the expansion was $5.25 billion, but the final cost, upon completion, is expected to be higher.
The Panama Canal expansion, which began in September 2007, included the construction of two new sets of locks – one each on the Atlantic and Pacific Ocean sides – and excavation for new entrance channels to the new locks. The project also included widening and deepening the existing channels and raising the water level of Gatun Lake, the source of fresh water that allows the gravity-operated canal to function.
The innovative, 35.3-acre Scale Model Training Facility has two lakes connected by a channel modeled after the canal’s Culebra Cut. The new facility features docking bays, replicas of the new and existing locks, gates and chambers, all at a 1:25 scale.
The facility is equipped with a number of meticulously created scale model Panama Canal tugboats as well as ships built at Port Revel, France, including bulk carriers modeled after the Nord Delphinus and a container ship modeled after the Maersk Edinburgh. In addition, a liquid natural gas ship will be delivered by September 2016.
The facility features wave and wind generators to provide a realistic, hands-on training experience to prepare canal pilots and tugboat captains for the opening of the expanded waterway. It complements the training already provided at the Center of Simulation, Research & Maritime Development through immersive, 360-degree training simulations and courses.
“The will allow us to continue providing world-class service to the global maritime industry while guaranteeing safe and efficient transits through the soon-to-be inaugurated expanded canal,” said Jorge Quijano, ACP chief executive officer. “The dream of expansion will become a reality when we inaugurate the biggest infrastructure project in the history of the canal and the country of Panama.”