Jun

27

An expanded Panama Canal opens for giant ships  

PANAMA CITY — A mammoth ship bearing 9,472 containers and the unwieldy name Cosco Shipping Panama on Sunday will become the first vessel to officially pass through the new expanded Panama Canal, a $5.25 billion project designed to modernize a 102-year-old landmark of human ambition, determination and engineering prowess.

The Chinese vessel, which set sail from the Greek port of Piraeus on June 11, will cross the isthmus from the northern Atlantic Ocean end of the 48-mile canal. On Sunday morning, it entered one of the new locks, and during the day, it will transit the man-made Gatun Lake, slip along the widened Culebra Cut through a verdant mountain ridge, then descend through another lock that will lower it into the Pacific Ocean.

Like the channel that opened in 1914, the enlarged Panama Canal is a feat of engineering, albeit one that ran over budget and two years behind schedule. The contractors dredged enough material to fill the Egyptian Great Pyramid at Giza, one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, 25 times over. The amount of steel used could have erected 29 new Eiffel Towers. The Empire State Building could lie down and fit into just one of the three chambers in each of the new channel's locks.

Although cargo tonnage through the canal has risen 60 percent since 2009, Panama needed to expand the canal to accommodate a new generation of container ships, known as neo-Panamax, which are too big for the old canal locks. The new locks are wider than the old ones, 180 feet versus 110 feet, and are deeper, too, at 60 feet versus 42 feet. Officials say the larger locks and new lane will double the waterway's cargo capacity. More than 170 neo-Panamax ships have already booked reservations in the expanded locks.


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