The $5.25 billion Panama Canal Expansion Project (Ampliación del Canal de Panamá) is scheduled to be completed in April 2015, and will not only tremendously benefit the Republic of Panama and its people, but will also greatly profit, influence and add competition to the international maritime industry. The expansion began in September 2006 and seeks to:
- Construct two new sets of locks- one on the Pacific and one on the Atlantic side of the Canal. Each lock will have three chambers and each chamber will have three water reutilization basins.
- Widen and deepen the existing navigational channels in Gatun Lake and deepen Culebra Cut
- Open a new 6.1 km-long access channel to connect the Pacific locks and Culebra Cut
Mega-ships three times the size of the largest ships currently able to pass through (called ¨New-Panamax¨ by Canal management) will soon be able to transit through the Canal’s third lane, resulting in lower shipping costs and greater efficiency. The Panama Canal currently averages 35 ships per day, and the addition of the third lock will allow a decreased waiting line and up to 15 more vessels to pass through daily.
Internationally, officials on the U.S.’ East Coast and Gulf of Mexico are deepening the harbors of New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, Charleston, Savannah, Jacksonville and Miami in order to accommodate the New-Panamax vessels traveling via the Canal from Southeast Asia and South America´s Eastern ports. Currently, the Port of Virginia in Norfolk and the Port Authority of New York are the only ports on the Eastern seaboard prepared to receive the mega-ships today.
The short, relatively inexpensive passageway is also expected to influence shipping between the U.S.’ East and West coasts, with moving goods by water than by land. The New-Panamax vessels traveling from the Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach will no longer be too large to pass through the Canal come 2015, providing competition to shipment via highway and rail. Global trade patterns will greatly change, particularly to/from the U.S., Brazil and Southeast Asia as the Canal´s expanded and more efficient short-cut will now be more competitive with current transportation routes, particularly along the Suez Canal and through Cape of Good Hope.
The creation of additional employment within Panama due to the expansion, an estimated 10-15%, and mid-long term effects of extra income within the country, will only further strengthen and develop Panama. The Panama Canal Authority (ACP), the government agency responsible for the Canal´s operation and management, currently trains and provides opportunities for Panamanians to ensure Panamanian workforce availability. Currently, Panamanians comprise more than 95% of the Canal’s seasoned workforce, and occupy positions in high-skill areas vital to the Canal organization.