The newly expanded Panama Canal opened on June 26th to scenes of jubilation, with fireworks and crowds of thousands welcoming the rebirth of the world's greatest canal.
Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela and Panama Canal Administrator and CEO Jorge L. Quijano spoke to a crowd of more than 25,000 Panamanians, Canal employees, heads of state and dignitaries from around the world, Canal customers, shipping and trade executives, and nearly 1,000 journalists.
"More than 100 years ago, the Panama Canal connected two oceans. Today, we connect the present and the future,” said Mr. Quijano speaking to the people of Panama. “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."
"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 system by creating the necessary incentives and conditions to give added value to our inter-oceanic route," said Panamanian President Varela.
The inaugural transit began with the passage of Neopanamax vessel COSCO SHIPPING PANAMA through the Agua Clara Locks on the Atlantic side of the country and concluded with its transit through the Cocoli Locks on the Pacific side. The ship is en route to Asia. The vessel, formerly known as Andronikos bore the rather unweildly and slightly forced marketing name in honour of the canal's opening.
The Expansion will provide greater economies of scale to global commerce, said the Panama Canal company, it will introduce new routes, liner services, and segments such as liquefied natural gas (LNG).
"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," Mr. Quijano added. "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 is the Canal’s largest enhancement project. In 2006, more than 75 percent of Panamanians approved the project in a nation-wide referendum, and, in 2007, construction of the $5.25 billion project began. It 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.
In 2015, the original Canal set a tonnage record, transiting 340.8 million PC/UMS. It will continue to operate, transiting Panamax-sized vessels or smaller. While the Expansion’s 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.
The COSCO SHIPPING PANAMA is a new 'Neopanamax' boxship, built by Hyundai Samho Heavy Industries Co, Ltd and delivered earlier this year. She is registered in the Marshall Islands. It is just shy of 300 metres long and carries 9472 TEUs. She was selected from a draw to make the historic passage and left the Port of Piraeus in Greece on the 11th of June.