As the long-awaited $5.3 billion expansion of the Panama Canal nears completion, industry players fear that fundamental changes will not be made as the expanded canal will not be able to fit the super-sized ships.
This might call for a further fourth set of locks at the canal to handle these giants of the seas, as they continue to grow in size.
“We are always analyzing the market and as soon as we can economically justify it we will begin,” Bloomberg quoted Manuel Benitez, deputy administrator of the Panama Canal Authority, as saying.
“If that changes and the demand exists we are ready to begin.”
China has already expressed interest in construction of the fourth set of locks.
The Panama Canal Administrator Jorge L. Quijano held an informative meeting recently with a delegation headed by Mo Wenhe, Chairman of the China Harbour Engineering Company (CHEC) and Wei Hua Wang, representative of the Chinese-Panamanian Office of Business Development.
“We are exploring our participation in all Canal projects, especially in the design, construction and financing of a fourth set of locks,” Wenhe said.
The original idea behind the expansion was to handle boxships of up to 13,000 teu, however as shipping lines bring in vessels that can carry 18,000 teu, and hint plans for even larger ones, the fourth set of locks tailored to the needs of these giant structures seems a logical option.
On the other hand, pressure heightens as plans for Nicaragua Canal and the recently announced expansion of the Suez Canal hit the headlines, all of them targeting a bigger piece of the “shipping action.”
The expansion program of the Panama Canal has achieved an overall progress of 78%, while the new locks project is currently 73% complete.
The project is expected to be complete by December 2015, 16 months behind schedule due to work suspension triggered by cost overruns.
The consortium behind the project GUPC suspended work on the locks in February, due to a “cash-flow crisis” arising from $1.6 billion in cost overruns, which, according to GUPC, should be covered by the Panama Canal Authority.
The two managed to reach a deal on August 1st for completion of the Third Set of Locks project.
Today the Panama Canal marks the 100th anniversary since its opening.
By Arnes Biogradlija
World Maritime News Staff, August 15, 2014