The programme, which cost US$5.25 billion, has increased the capacity of the canal, with wider and deeper lanes, as well as a third lane of traffic that has been equipped with a brand new set of locks. The existing locks that had been in place for almost 100 years have been replaced to allow transit for neo-Panamax vessels with a capacity of up to 14,000 TEUs.
New traffic lane
The original Panama Canal had two lanes, each with its own set of locks. The expansion project has added a third lane with lock complexes at either end of the canal, allowing it to accommodate vessels up to 49 metres wide, 366 metres long and 15 metres deep. The new lock complexes have three consecutive chambers designed to move vessels from sea level to the level of Gatun Lake and back down again. While the expanded locks are 21 metres wider and five metres deeper than their predecessors, they use less water due to the water-saving basins that recycle 60 per cent of the water used per transit.
Wider locks, bigger vessels
When the Panama Canal opened in 1914, it transformed global trade almost overnight. Since then, ocean vessels have gradually grown in size, while the width of the locks of the canal has remained the same: 33.53 metres, to be exact. Now, a third lane with expanded locks has opened the canal up to vessels that are on average 25 per cent larger than those that were previously able to use it. WWL’s neo-Panamax vessels are 36.5 metres wide and 200 metres long, with a cargo capacity equivalent to 8,000 cars. However, there are still close to 200 post-Panamax vessels in the world that are too large for the new locks, and the Panama government is already looking into adding a fourth set of locks to accommodate them.
The long-awaited opening of the expanded Panama Canal is expected to double its capacity to more than 600 million Panama Canal tonnes. While the previous locks only supported the passage of vessels with a maximum capacity of 5,000 TEUs, the expanded Panama Canal will be able to accommodate neo-Panamax vessels with up to 14,000 TEUs. In addition to the obvious advantages of increased capacity, the expansion of the Panama Canal will also reduce waiting times, thereby delivering fuel-cost savings to WWL’s customers.
Still the quickest route
Crossing the Panama Canal from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean or vice versa takes eight to 10 hours on average, plus some 15 hours of waiting at either end. Compared with the alternatives, which add at least 3,000 miles – and countless tonnes of fuel – to the journey, the Panama Canal offers the shortest route by far. For example, a vessel from East Asia averaging 19 knots would need 41 days to reach the Gulf of Mexico going around Cape Horn or 43 days via the Suez Canal. The same journey using the Panama Canal takes only 25 days.
WWL and the Panama Canal
Every single week, WWL uses Panama as a hub for some 65 connections, linking suppliers from the Americas, Asia, Europe, Oceania and Africa with customers all around the globe. In total, it transships some 30,000 units a year at the Port of Manzanillo in Mexico, which is both the busiest RoRo port and the largest container transshipment terminal in Latin America. In 2012, WWL also opened an Equipment Processing Centre in Manzanillo. Every year, an average of up to 200 WWL vessels transit the Panama Canal – a number that will grow now that the canal is able to accommodate WWL’s new-generation neo-Panamax vessels.