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Panama Canal Expansion Celebrates Fifth Anniversary with Deeper Draught

2021-07-02 Lauren Grieco
Panama Canal, neopanamax locks, draught, deepened, shipping, water management, container ships

Five years after completion of the Panama Canal Expansion project, the canal has reached a new milestone worthy of celebration. Following infrastructure improvements, the Panama Canal Authority can now welcome an impressive 96.8% of the world’s container ships. A series of infrastructural improvements were confirmed with trial transits to ensure the safety of operations can be maintained. As a result of the successful safety trials, the Canal now offers a shortened route to nearly all container ships, bringing benefit to global economies.

Completed five years ago on 26 June 2016, the Neopanamax Locks can now transit commercial and non-commercial vessels with a maximum length overall (LOA) of 370.33 metres, a three-metre increase from the previous maximum LOA of 367.28 metres. In addition, the Panama Canal now transits vessels with 15.24 metres (50 feet) draught, the highest level allowed at the waterway. Since April 2021, Gatun Lake has maintained a draught of 14.93 metres thanks to more rainfall in combination with implementation of practices to successfully manage the lake's water levels, the latter which remains a high priority for the canal. By extending the LOA and draught, shipping lines can construct vessels with greater capacity and still transit through the canal.

Ricaurte Vásquez Morales, the Panama Canal’s Administrator, adds that the infrastructural improvements which enabled the capacity increase were made ‘possible by our team’s experience operating the Neopanamax Locks safely and reliably over the past five years.’ Completed on 26 June 2016, the Panama Canal Expansion project doubled its capacity at the time. The forward-thinking infrastructural project anticipated the inevitable growth of the shipping industry and was executed with details such as rolling gates which enable the infrastructure to be adapted while maintaining operations, staying a step ahead of the exponential growth of container ships.

In addition to operational benefits, the Panama Canal’s latest infrastructural optimisations bring value to the environment and international sustainability targets set forth by the UN’s SDGs. By making it possible for vessels with a larger capacity to travel a shorter distance compared to other shipping routes, the Panama Canal reduces fuel consumption and emission. This will lead to a reduction not only in global greenhouse gases but the carbon footprint of the Panama Canal which aims to reach carbon neutrality by 2030, reinforcing the Panama Canal Authority’s commitment to positively contribute to the global maritime industry’s environmental goals.