According to Francisco Miguez, executive vice president for finance and administration at the Panama Canal Authority (ACP), the opening of expanded locks on the Panama Canal has been delayed until the second half of the year, from the previously scheduled opening of April 2016.
Miguez, speaking at a recent freight conference in Atlanta, Ga., said a more specific opening time frame will be available after lock testing in February.
A recent update reported that the locks are approximately 96% completed, but during initial testing last fall, localized seepage was reported due to insufficient steel reinforcement in areas subjected to stress from extreme condition testing.
After careful examination of all the other sills in both lock complexes, GUPC, the contractor consortium, stated that in addition to reinforcing the sill that presented the issue, it would also reinforce the first and second sill in the Cocoli Locks and the first three sills in the Atlantic-facing Agua Clara Locks, as a preventative measure.
GUPC verbally indicated that the completion date for the expansion project will remain April 2016, as planned; however, a timeline recently provided by ACP chief executive officer and administrator Jorge Quijano suggests otherwise.
According to Quijano, additional testing will occur after the lock reinforcements are completed in January. Transit trial tests with a chartered vessel in the Atlantic locks will occur in April. A date for the expansion's inauguration will then be selected, which Quijano expects to be in the second quarter of 2016. The opening date will occur soon after the inauguration, he said.
ACP said building the expanded canal for the long haul and quality and testing are critical.
“An expansion of the Panama Canal has never been done, and we should all feel very good about where we are today," Quijano said. "After a successful year, we look forward to being able to provide the benefits of the new canal to our customers and the people of Panama."
GUPC said it has repeatedly communicated to ACP that April 2016 remains feasible as a functional completion date but suggested that payment from ACP may result in further delays.
GUPC explained that ACP continues to delay any payment awarded under the contract, which is limiting the progress of the project.
On its website, GUPC stated that "the time to reach that (completion) date depends on the willingness and availability of the ACP. GUPC does, and will continue to do, all technical and economic efforts to reach the date, but the conclusion of the work largely depends on the ACP since, as owner of the work, it should prioritize the solution of the administrative and financial issues always under the contract.”