Panama remakes its famous canal for giant ships

Tue Nov 17, 2009 8:25pm EST
 
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By Sean Mattson

PANAMA CITY (Reuters) - One of the world's greatest engineering marvels is being overhauled as work crews blast through hills to widen and deepen the Panama Canal to make room for a new generation of mega-ships.

Defying the world economic downturn, Panama is spending $5.25 billion in the first major expansion of the canal since it was opened in 1914.

It is a monumental undertaking that promises to shake up global trade routes, making it easier and cheaper to transport Asian goods to the eastern United States and giving China better access to Latin American oil and other commodities.

"The whole Panama Canal expansion will have a significant impact on the way business is done from the Far East into the Caribbean and into the U.S. itself," said Jay Brickman, a vice president at Crowley Maritime Corp, whose container shipping division services the Caribbean and eastern United States. "It changes the dynamics and it changes the economy."

The canal, long dreamed of by Spanish colonial rulers as a 50-mile (80-km) link between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and finally built by the United States, risked obsolescence because many new cargo ships are too big to traverse it.

Widening the waterway will mean it can handle a huge new breed of container vessels known as post-Panamax ships. They can carry up to 12,600 cargo containers, almost three times the current number.

It will also be a boost for trade from Asia to the central and eastern United States, with the port of Houston likely to see a big increase in traffic.

At the site of the Pacific entrance locks just west of Panama City, excavators with buckets big enough to hold a large car dump rock and dirt into massive yellow trucks with wheels twice as tall as an average person.   Continued...

 
<p>Heavy machinery remove land from the excavation area in the Panama Canal that will be flooded as part of the construction of the third locks that will commence work on August 25, 2009. REUTERS/Alberto Lowe</p>