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Panama Canal expansion ceremony

Ceremony held to officially launch the expansion of the Panama Canal.

Updated on 28 Jun 2016 08:07 GMT

In Panama City, on June 26th, 2016, a ceremony was held to officially launch the expansion of the Panama Canal. Panama Canal Administrator and CEO Jorge L. Quijano and Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela, addressed a 25,000-strong crowd comprising of Canal employees, international dignitaries and heads of state, Panamanian citizens, trade and shipping executives and almost 1,000 journalists during the inauguration ceremony.

Speaking of this first expansion of the key conduit for international maritime trade since its construction finished in 1914, Quijano said: "More than 100 years ago, the Panama Canal connected two oceans. Today, we connect the present and the future. It is an honor to announce that what we did it together: providing this great connection to the world. This is the beginning of a new era."

The $5,2bn expansion enlarges the overall volume of transported freight and increases the maximum vessel capacity. The new locks can accommodate 160 feet wide, 1,200 long and 50 feet deep vessels, as opposed to the former capacity of 106 feet wide, 965 feet long and 39.5 deep. They also use less water due to water-saving basins that allow 60 percent of used water per transit to be recycled.

Container ship capacities can now increase from 4,400 to approximately 13,000 teus and the new locks create an extra traffic lane for larger vessels.

The first transit started with the Neopanamax vessel COSCO Shipping Panama (en route to Asia) passing through the Agua Clara Locks on the Atlantic side of Panama, concluding with the vessel transiting through the Cocoli Locks on its Pacific side.

Setting sail on 11th June, from Piraeus in Greece, the COSCO Shipping Panama was originally named Andronikos and was renamed in honour of the country of Panama and its Canal.

Speaking of the future of the Canal, Quijano stated: "We are thrilled that we currently have 170 reservations for Neopanamax ships, commitments of two new liner services to the Expanded Canal, and a reservation for the first LNG vessel, which will transit in late July. Our customers care that their supply chain is reliable and that they have a diversity of shipping options. And the Canal has always been reliable; today, we offer the world new shipping options and trade routes."

The Expansion program was begun in 2007, after a nation-wide referendum resulted in the approval of more than 75 percent of Panamanians. The project involved the excavation of in excess of 150 million cubic metres of materials.

The original Canal set a tonnage record in 2015, transiting 340.8 million PC/UMS, and it will continue to transit Panamax-sized vessels and smaller. Panamanian President Varela said.

"Canal users can be assured that we'll continue to support the Panama Canal Authority and our port operators to provide them a world class service and strengthen our logistics," he added.

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