Panama Canal Updates: Good News, Bad News

October is turning out to be a month filled with news and developments for the Panama Canal. From expansion setbacks to potential delays, and securing fresh funding and setting new tonnage records, there’s both bad and good news for this 100-year-old icon of shipping and engineering.

The Panama Canal, a waterway connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, was officially opened in August of 1914 – making it over 100 years old. The waterway would provide a vital shortcut for many ships along the course of its tumultuous history, which includes a past plagued by a revolution, riots, and over 25,000 worker deaths across its years of construction. 13,000 to 14,000 ships still go through the canal annually, yielding about $1.8 billion in toll fees, and it is currently undergoing a $5.25 billion expansion project to accommodate larger cargo vessels.

The Panama Canal Expansion Project, however, is not without its own problems and setbacks. Already in delay, it has recently suffered a problem during condition testing, when a localized leak was revealed on the concrete sill of one of the expanded locks (see related article, “Cracks and Leaks on The Panama Canal Expansion”). Late this September, it was announced that the cause was determined to be insufficient steel reinforcement. The contractor, Grupo Unidos por el Canal, S.A. (“GUPC”) will be addressing the issue by reinforcing not just the problem area, but other sills as a preventive measure. The completion date for the project, said to be over 90% done, is still targeted for April, 2016. Reports indicate legal action may considered by authorities, in the event that there are further delays on the opening.

In other news, the Panama Canal Authority (“ACP”) managed to raise $450 million to fund a third bridge over the Canal, via an international bond offering. This marks the ACP’s first such international offering. The continuing relevance of the Canal is driven home not just by expansion projects and flows of funding, but also by setting a new tonnage record. In fiscal year 2015 (from October, 2014 to September, 2015), 340.8 million Panama Canal Universal System Tonnage (“PC/UMS”) went through it, 4.3% up from the previous year and blowing past its previous, 2012 record of 333.7 million PC/UMS tons.

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“Cause of Panama Canal Leak Identified.” The Maritime Executive, 30 Sep 2015. Web. 12 Oct 2015.

“GUPC: Weak Steel Reinforcement Caused Panama Canal Leak.” World Maritime News, 01 Oct 2015. Web. 12 Oct 2015.

Labrut, Michele. “Panama Canal records historical tonnage.” Seatrade Maritime News, XX Oct 2015. Web. 12 Oct 2015.

Nix, Elizabeth. “7 Fascinating Facts About the Panama Canal.”, 15 Aug 2014. Web. 12 Oct 2015.

“Panama Canal Authority Completes USD 450M Bond Offering.” World Maritime News, 02 Oct 2015. Web. 12 Oct 2015.

“Panama Canal Authority issues update on leaks in new lock.” MarineLog, 30 Sep 2015. Web. 12 Oct 2015.

“Panama Canal Mulls Legal Action Over Construction Troubles.” Ship & Bunker, 12 Oct 2015. Web. 12 Oct 2015.

“Panama Canal Sets Tonnage Record.” The Maritime Executive, 09 Oct 2015. Web. 12 Oct 2015.

Weise, Neil. “Panama Canal chief says expanded locks will open in April despite leaks.”, 07 Oct 2015. Web. 12 Oct 2015.