Headed By Woman Engineer, Panama Canal Expansion To Herald An Age Of Superships

Panama Canal expansion will see the lifeline of Altantic-Pacific connection almost double its capacity for vessels, boosting not just the prospects of international trade but also accommodating the changing trends of maritime business. The $5.4 billion expansion drive of the Panama Canal has been orchestrated over the last nine years, and is set to be inaugurated on June 26, amidst much global anticipation.

The ship, Panama, owned by the China COSCO, was chosen in a lottery to be the first to pass through the newly expanded waterway. The vessel was renamed to suit the occasion and will set out for the newly constructed Agua Clara locks between 6 a.m. and 7 a.m.

Panama Canal Expansion Workers take selfies during the first test of the newly expanded Canal in Agua Clara on June 9 [Photo by Arnulfo Franco/AP Images]A staggering total of 110-million man hours, 292,000 tons of structural steel, 1.6 million tons of cement and 5 million cubic meters of concrete have gone into the expansion of the Panama Canal, according to the Miami Herald.

The drive to expand the canal comes at a time when economic slumps have forced trading units to use fewer ships and instead opt for larger vehicles which are one and a half times the size of the older ones. For these to pass through the 110-foot-wide locks was an impossibility that affected trade between Asia and the American East Coast.

From September 2007, a third lane of locks was being constructed to facilitate the passage of megaships that carry up to 14,000 containers, in place of the earlier vehicles that only carried up to 5,000 containers, according to the Wall Street Journal. The expansion of the canal into a three lane channel with raised water levels in the man-made Gatun Lake will result in the considerable easing of the backlog created when smaller ships pass through the Panama Canal.

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From the time when the U.S. government took over the construction of the Panama Canal from France, more than a century ago, to the official handover of the Canal’s responsibility to the Panama government’s Panama Canal Authority, the United States have been an integral part of the monumental waterway. As expected by most world trade watchers, the expansion will herald the demand in the U.S. for ports that can accommodate the larger, New Panamax ships.

As reported by the WSJ, the American Association of Port Authorities is of the opinion that around $155 billion is going to be invested by 2020 to expand U.S. ports — a drive that will also see South American ports participate soon.

On June 26, Jill Biden — wife of Vice President Joe Biden — will accompany a retinue of U.S. dignitaries who will be present at the unflagging, as announced by President Obama.

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In addition to spelling higher amounts of revenue for Panama, the canal expansion is also a sweet success for women in engineering. Ilya Espino de Marotta is the chief of all designing expeditions on all Panama Canal projects and is the first woman to take on a role as gigantic as this. With a pink safety vest and helmet which have now become her trademark, de Marotta is one of the foremost faces of canal engineering whose ideas are sought after by the whole world. As reported by Marketplace, De Marotta ascribes the success of the project to its global nature.

“Gates were fabricated in Italy, valves were fabricated in Korea, the design was done all over the world from Chicago, Denver, Argentina, Mexico, Netherlands.”

Panama Canal Expansion A cargo ship makes its way through the Miraflores locks [Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images]In the topmost photograph, workers hold ropes connected to the Malta-flagged cargo vessel, Baroque, as it navigates the Agua Clara locks during the first test of the expansion in Agua Clara on June 9. Opened for the first time 102 years ago at the cost of many lives, the Panama Canal stands as a testament to man’s engineering acumen and ingenuous spirit. The COSCO Panama has set sail from Greece to reach the Canal and cross it to make history out of what is truly an immense expansion project.

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[Photo by Arnulfo Franco/AP Images]