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American ShipperShipping

NEWS FLASH: Expanded Panama Canal to officially open June 26

A televised broadcast of the first ship to transit the widened Central America waterway will follow testing of new locks earlier in the month.

   The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) announced Wednesday it will officially open its new locks for transit of larger ships June 26.
   The canal will hold an inaugural ceremony with a ship traveling from the Agua Clara locks on the Atlantic side of the canal to the Cocoli locks on the Pacific side, after which the expansion will be open for commercial transits, a spokesperson for the ACP said.
   The new locks will be tested in early June with another vessel, but the spokesperson made it clear there are not two different opening dates. Previous media reports indicated there might be an initial inauguration prior to the official opening for commercial traffic.
   ACP has postponed the opening of the expansion several times since construction began in 2007, most recently after leaks in lock walls were discovered during testing at elevated water pressure last year. The lock walls have since been reinforced and tested by Grupo Unidos por el Canal (GUPC), the consortium designing and building the third set of locks for the canal.
   The opening will be televised, following the ceremonial ship as it passes through the canal, ACP said. Details on the ships that will be used for testing and the inaugural transit were not available.
   The announcement was made during a ceremony to mark the opening of a scale model maneuvering training facility, which will provide additional hands-on experience to pilots and tugboat captains operating in the expanded Panama Canal. Mariners aboard miniature boats, one twenty-fifth the size of real ships, can maneuver the models around the 35.3-acre training facility, which features two lakes connected by a channel modeled after the canal’s Culebra Cut, docking bays, and replicas of the new and existing locks, gates and chambers.
   ACP said the facility includes wave and wind generators to provide a realistic training experience for canal pilots and tugboat captains to prepare them for the opening of the expanded waterway. It complements another facility, the “Center of Simulation, Research and Maritime Development,” which provides training through immersive, 360-degree simulations and courses.
   Panama President Juan Carlos Verela was in attendance at the inauguration ceremony, along with Roberto Roy, the chairman of the board of directors of the Panama Canal, and ACP Chief Executive Officer Jorge L. Quijano.
   “The Scale Model Training Facility will allow us to continue providing world-class service to the global maritime industry, while guaranteeing safe and efficient transits,” Quijano said in a statement.
   The facility is equipped with a number of meticulously created scale model Panama Canal tugboats, as well as ships built in France at Port Revel, a facility near Grenoble where captains and pilots have trained on models since the 1960s. The models in Panama include one modeled after the 114,167 dwt bulk carrier Nord Delphinus, and another modeled after the 9,000-TEU containership Maersk Edinburgh. In addition, a model of a liquid natural gas ship will be delivered by September 2016.
   The authority said the expansion program is currently 97 percent complete.

Chris Dupin

Chris Dupin has written about trade and transportation and other business subjects for a variety of publications before joining American Shipper and Freightwaves.

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