After a nearly nine-year process, the inauguration of the Panama Canal expansion was completed June 26 with the transit of Neopanamax vessel COSCO Shipping Panama through the new Atlantic-facing Agua Clara Locks.
Panama's President Juan Carlos Varela and Panama Canal administrator and chief executive officer Jorge Quijano spoke to a crowd of more than 25,000 residents, canal employees, heads of state and dignitaries from around the world, canal customers, shipping and trade executives and nearly 1,000 journalists.
"More than 100 years ago, the Panama Canal connected two oceans. Today, we connect the present and the future," Quijano told the people of Panama. "It is an honor to announce that we did it together — providing this great connection to the world. This is the beginning of a new era."
At the ceremony, Varela and Quijano together honored the almost 40,000 workers who made the expansion a reality with a message of pride, accomplishment, hope and opportunity.
“Our commitment to provide value to our customers remains paramount. In 2015, we broke our tonnage record with 340.8 million PC/UMS (Panama Canal Universal Measurement System) in the original canal,” Quijano said. “Today, we make history and improve global connectivity. We thank our customers for their support and appreciate the 170 reservations we have received thus far to transit the expanded canal.”
The $5.25 billion project is the Panama Canal's largest enhancement to date. It included construction of a new set of locks on the Atlantic Ocean and Pacific Ocean sides of the waterway and the excavation of more than 150 million cu. m of material, creating a second lane of traffic and doubling the cargo capacity of the waterway.
While the expanded locks are 70 ft. wider and 18 ft. deeper than those in the original canal, they use less water due to basins that recycle 60% of the water used per transit (Figure).
The expanded canal is projected to be able to handle 10-12 transits each day, adding to the approximately 40 transits per day the original two-lane canal could accommodate.
Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal was one of several U.S. attendees at the opening ceremony, which he called a "historic moment" as the first vessels began transiting the canal's massive new locks.
"The completion of the Panama Canal expansion is one of the largest and most important civil works projects in recent memory," Deal said. "The Port of Savannah (Ga.) is the leading East Coast trading partner with the Panama Canal, and today is a historic moment for both partners. The close ties Georgia and Panama share have helped to make the Port of Savannah the success it is today. I congratulate the Panama Canal Authority on its success and look forward to the completion of our own harbor-deepening project.”