Posted on December 29, 2015 · Posted in Industrial / Flex

The much-anticipated Panama Canal expansion project is now 96 percent complete, but will not be open to commercial traffic in April as previously reported, according to the canal authority.

It’s been a year of trials and tribulations for the project, whose new locks will handle ships with capacities of up to 14,000 twenty-foot-equivalent units, nearly triple the size of Panamax ships that can transit the century-old existing locks.

Labor strikes, litigation and leaky locks, though, have managed to delay the canal’s official inauguration by more than a year.

“We are very close — only 4 percent remains to complete the project,” Jorge L. Quijano, Panama Canal Authority director and CEO, said in a statement. “An expansion of the Panama Canal has never been done and we should all feel very good about where we are today.”

The news comes after leaks were found in August in the concrete sill separating the lower and middle chambers of the Cocoli Locks on the Pacific side of the canal. The canal authority warned Grupo Unidos Por el Canal, the consortium building the locks, it “would not accept the current works until flaws are fixed.”

According to Quijano and the canal authority, the lock reinforcements should be completed as soon as mid-January and crews will begin testing the locks shortly thereafter. Transit trial tests with a chartered vessel will then begin in April. A date for the expansion’s inauguration, though, has still not been given.

The canal authority said it expects the ribbon-cutting to be scheduled some time in the second quarter of 2016. Subsequently, the commercial opening date will be selected.

The $5.25 billion expansion project was originally slated for completion in October 2014 to coincide with the canal’s 100th anniversary, but disagreements between the canal authority and GUPC regarding cost overruns pushed the deadline back.

That deadline was pushed back further by labor conflicts and the recent discovery of the leaks in the canal’s concrete sills. Quijano, however, has remained optimistic throughout the recent crises that the canal will stay on track for an early 2016 opening.

The nation’s foreign ministry has already sent invitations to some 70 heads of state for the opening ceremony.


Source: JOC

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