Green Engineering – recycling water, reforesting the Panama Canal Watershed, saving 160 Million tons of Carbon Dioxide in the first ten years of operation – that is the New Panama Canal.
It took 40,000 workers nearly 10 years to dig the new access lane to the Panama Canal, a massive engineering feat that rivals the canal’s initial opening 102 years ago and that could potentially reshape the way goods move around the globe.
When the $5.4 billion expansion project opens Sunday, it will nearly triple the capacity of the original canal, allowing ships carrying up to 14,000 containers a quicker path between Asia and the USA.
Anticipation of the new high-capacity lane sparked a global investment trend that dwarfed the canal expansion price tag as ports from Rotterdam to New York to Brazil prepared to welcome the megaships. But its opening comes amid a global shipping industry slump, raising questions about whether these enormous investments will pay off.
The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has spent $6 billion over the past decade to deepen its harbor and complete other projects to prepare for the bigger ships, said Beth Rooney, an assistant director with the port.
“As the largest ships come, our ability to compete increases,” Rooney said. “It will be very dynamic and very interesting to watch.”
Opening in 1914, the Panama Canal was a marvel of engineering and dark history. Cholera, malaria and yellow fever claimed the lives of more than 22,000 workers who labored to dig the 50-mile canal through the jungles of the Isthmus of Panama. It took 44 years to complete, but it transformed global trade by creating a shortcut between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
As ships grew in size, the canal faced mounting pressure to expand. The current canal can accommodate ships carrying up to 5,000 containers.
The expansion project, started in 2007, required a third set of locks to raise and lower ships between the varying heights of the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, said Ilya de Marotta, lead manager of the expansion project for the Panama Canal Authority. The locks use about 50 million gallons of water — the average daily consumption of the city of New Orleans — to move each ship through.
The new lane will allow ships carrying nearly three times as many containers to pass, bringing more umbrellas, ceiling fans, flat-screen TVs and myriad other goods from factories in China and other parts of Asia to commercial centers on the East Coast. About 90% of the world’s goods travel by sea.
New products — such as natural gas, which is commonly ferried on bigger ships — can travel more quickly from U.S. ports to Asia or western stretches of South America, de Marotta said.
“We’re opening up new markets that were never even considered before,” she said.
About the Panama Canal Authority
The Panama Canal is run by an autonomous agency of the Government of Panama in charge of managing, operating and maintaining the Panama Canal. The operation of the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) is based on its organic law and the regulations approved by its Board of Directors. For more information, please refer to the ACP’s website: http://www.pancanal.com or follow us on Twitter @thepanamacanal.
About the Panama Canal Expansion Program
The Expansion Program is the largest enhancement project since the Canal’s opening in 1914. Considered and analyzed for a decade with more than 100 studies, the Expansion provides the world’s shippers, retailers, manufacturers and consumers with greater shipping options, better maritime service, enhanced logistics and supply-chain reliability. The Expansion included the construction of a new set of locks on the Atlantic and Pacific sides of the waterway and the excavation of more than 150 million cubic meters of material, creating a second lane of traffic and doubling the cargo capacity of the waterway. While the Expanded locks are 70 feet wider and 18 feet deeper than those in the original Canal, they use less water due to water-savings basins that recycle 60 percent of the water used per transit. In line with its commitment to customer service, the Panama Canal will continue to provide the world with value for another century and beyond.
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