Hot on the heels of Egypt's US$8.2 bn upgrade of the Suez Canal, the Panama Canal expansion has been completed nearly two years behind schedule. Opened to much fanfare and acclaim on 26th June 2016, the US$5.4 bn project formally began in 2007 and was initially expected to be completed by August 2014. Various construction delays, involving labour disputes and apparent cost overruns inhibited its launch, which would have otherwise coincided with the canal's 100 year anniversary.
Hailed the "route that unites the world" by Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela, the expansion doubles the canalís capacity, adding locks and a new lane for traffic while increasing the channelís depth. Mega-ships, such as the modern New Panamax class, can now pass through the canal, aiding revenue from container cargo which currently accounts for 50% of the canalís overall income.
Like the Suez Canal, the Panama Canal is a multibillion-dollar gamble on a positive economic future despite tough times for international shipping. Its Middle Eastern counterpart recently lowered tariffs for large container carriers by up to 65% in an attempt to maintain traffic.
Critics have claimed the canal design makes the transit of larger ships unsafe sighting an independent study commissioned by the International Transport Workersí Federation. Released earlier this year, the report concluded the manoeuvrability of vessels within the new locks was compromised, a claim which has been dismissed as false by the Panama Canal Authority.