COCOLÍ, Panamá — The expanded Panama Canal will be ready for international maritime traffic on April 1, 2016, Canal Minister Roberto Roy announced this week during placement of the waterway expansion project’s last lock gate.
“We’re going to finish the Panama Canal’s expansion, that’s the essential thing. We have eleven months to go, because on April 1 (2016) the canal will be open for international navigation,” Roy told reporters.
The Panama Canal has been in an expansion phase since 2007 to allow ships carrying up to 14,000 containers — three times its present capacity — to cross its 80 kilometers.
With the expansion, so-called Post-Panamax ships measuring over 400 meters long and 50 meters wide, the size of four football fields, will be able to go through the canal.
“What remains to be done now is to step on the gas and finish” the work, Roy said.
The main contractor consortium Grupo Unidos por el Canal (GUPC) placed the last of the project’s 16 lock gates on Tuesday.
With the gates in place, and after approximately a month of electric and mechanical tests, progressive flooding of the new route will begin in order to start trials with ships.
GUPC, made up of Spanish firm Sacyr, Italian firm Salini Impregilio, Belgian firm Jan de Nui and Panamanian Constructora Urbana, will deliver the construction in early 2016.
The work, with close to 90 percent progress, is a year behind schedule due to conflict between the GUPC and the Panama Canal Authority, as well as several workers’ strikes. The project’s final cost is uncertain because of legal complaints lodged by the consortium.
Five percent of the world’s maritime trade goes through the Panama Canal, whose main users are the United States and China.