After nine years of construction that was occasionally marred by delays, the expansion of the Panama Canal became official June 26 with an inauguration ceremony.
During the inauguration, container vessel COSCO Shipping Panama transited the Agua Clara Locks on the Canal’s Atlantic side during the early morning, and the Cocoli Locks in the afternoon.
A regular schedule of transits through the expanded canal began the following day, June 27.
The COSCO Shipping Panama set sail from the Greek Port of Piraeus on June 11 and made the inaugural transit of the expanded Panama Canal after a two-week journey. The June 26 ceremonies were witnessed by 17 members of the US Congress, as well as 70 heads of state from around the globe.
The COSCO Shipping Panama is a new containership that was just launched in January. The vessel, which is 984 feet (300 meters) in length and 157 feet (48.25 meters) in beam, has a container carrying capacity of 9,472 TEUs.
It was built by Hyundai Samho Heavy Industries, the same company that constructed the valves that control the flow of water through the Canal’s new locks.
The Panama Canal expansion is the largest construction project undertaken in the waterway since its 1914 opening. Construction to double the canal’s cargo capacity began in 2007.
The $5.25 billion project allows post-Panamax ships to travel through the canal en route to East Coast terminals, thereby bypassing the US West Coast. It was initially scheduled to be complete in 2014 to coincide with the 100-year anniversary of the opening of the existing canal.
The expansion of the Panama Canal could “reorient the landscape of the logistics industry and alter the decision-making calculus of the shippers that the canal serves,” according to a recent study conducted by the Boston Consulting Group and logistics provider CH Robinson.
West Coast ports currently receive two-thirds of container flows from East Asia, but as much as 10 percent of that traffic could shift to East Coast ports by the year 2020, due in major part to the Panama Canal expansion, according to the study.