Panama canal expansion: how it works

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The expansion of the Panama Canal will not be ready for its 100th anniversary on August 15 as initially hoped by canal authorities.

Aimed now to be completed by June 2015, the project was proposed in 2006, began in 2007 and has cost so far US$ 6.5 billion, Newsweek reported.

Connecting the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean, the canal currently uses locks in which water flows by gravity and raises ships 26 metres (85 feet) above sea level. Ships can then travel through artificial lakes and channels until they reach another set of locks leading to the sea on the other side.

The expansion of the canal will feature new sets of locks that will allow the 81-km-long channel to accommodate even bigger vessels.

The new locks will be larger but use less water than the existing ones. Basins next to them will recycle water from the locks as they are emptied, and use this water to partially refill the locks when another ship passes through. Water from the canal’s lakes will also be used to fill the new locks.

The new locks will be able to handle ships that are longer, taller and wider. Per-ship cargo capacity will nearly triple, from the current roughly 4,500 standard-container limit to roughly 12,000 standard containers.

These changes will make the Panama Canal more competitive with the alternative Suez Canal route, which can currently accommodate much larger ships

The Panama began operating in in 1914. It cost about US$420 million and took 40 years to complete.

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