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New Panama Canal locks open in June. Panama will inaugurate its newly-expanded canal on June 26, nearly two years behind schedule, said Jorge Luis Quijano, Administrator of the Panama Canal Authority. ”With the inauguration of this project, we will claim once again our historic vocation as a route of transit and a meeting point of civilizations,” Quijano said at a ceremony alongside Panama’s President, Juan Carlos Varela.
“We are aware that the enlargement work has not been easy,” Varela added. “Despite the setbacks, successful progress has been made toward its completion.”
The massive, multibillion-dollar project had originally been scheduled to end in October 2014 but has been successively pushed back. It has suffered construction and labor problems, legal issues and the discovery of fissures in one of the widened locks.
Work to enlarge the 80-kilometre-long waterway to handle more traffic and bigger cargo ships started in 2007. The project’s cost is estimated to have ballooned from an initially budgeted US$5.3 billion to around US$7 billion.
Some five per cent of the world’s commercial shipping passes through the Panama Canal. The Central American country earns US$1 billion a year in revenue from shipping fees. With the expansion, it hopes to triple that within a decade.
The Panamanian government has invited chiefs of state from 70 countries including all the nations from the Americas and 35 from other continents, which are the biggest users of the Canal.
Quijano said that the inauguration program will start early at 6:00 a.m. at the Agua Clara Locks, where President Varela will begin the inaugural transit.
The general public is invited to participate in the ceremony and the Panama Canal Authority is coordinating with the contractor, Grupos Unidos por el Canal (GUPC), to organize ample space so that everybody can observe the transit through the new Agua Clara Locks.
There is also an observation center for people who are able to travel to that area to observe the transit. It is expected that Canal TV will give coverage of the event from 6:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. The idea is to emulate the first transit through the Canal by the steamer Ancon.