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Panama Canal to inaugurate much anticipated expansion on 26 June

Panama Canal to inaugurate much anticipated expansion on 26 June
The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) announced on Wednesday that the Panama Canal expansion will be officially inaugurated on Sunday 26 June.

The announcement was made on Wednesday morning during the inauguration ceremony of the Canal’s state-of-the-art scale model manoeuvring training facility that will provide additional hands-on experience to pilots and tugboat captains to operate in the third set of locks.

The ACP Administrator Jorge Quijano made the official notification accompanied by the President of Panama, Juan Carlos Varela, along with the Panama Canal board of directors Chairman and Minister of Canal Affairs, Roberto Roy, and the members of the ACP board of directors.

The expansion programme is currently 97% complete. Final testing will be conducting in the following weeks. The new Panama Canal locks will allow containerships as large as 13,000 teu to 14,000 teu to use the waterway for the first time.

Testing of all systems on the expanded Panama Canal project has been launched, the project’s contractor Grupo Unidos por el Canal (GUPC) consortium said earlier this month. The testing stage will see gates, valves, electrical and mechanical and hydraulic control systems thoroughly checked over a period of two months before moving to navigation tests.

Over two thousand tests are to be conducted to check the inter-operability between operating systems on both sides of the Canal. Some 2,500 km of cables [three times and a half the length of the Panama country] –electrical, fiber optic and signals- have to be connected.

“All important cables are connected between buildings and control towers and are already all in place,” GUPC President Giuseppe Quarta told Seatrade Maritime News. “We are in a phase where everybody is engaged in completion. There is still little to be done.”

In April the ACP will call a tender to broker the chartering of a vessel- either a LNG, a container or a tanker- that will make the navigation tests in the Atlantic Agua Clara new locks with two transits-round trip- per day in May and in June in the Pacific Cocoli locks, ACP Administrator Jorge Quijano told Seatrade Maritime News.

There will be one single transit of a neo-panamax on the day of the inauguration June 26 and commercial operations will begin in ‘full gear’ the following Monday June 27. The first transit [on June 26] will be raffled off to the top customers of the Canal, probably end of April but no later than May. The winner - as it is just the distinction of being the first neo-panamax vessel to transit the new locks - will still have to pay according to the new toll.

Early in 2015, the ACP proposed a new tolls structure. The approval from the Panama Canal’s board of directors followed more than a year of consultations with industry representatives, an open call for comments, and a public hearing to solicit feedback on the proposed changes. The restructured tolls, which will feature a customer loyalty programme for the container segment, will go into effect at the opening of the expanded Canal.

In FY2015, the highest amount of tonnage transitsed the Canal in its 101-year history. Some 340.8m Panama Canal tonnes (PC/UMS) of cargo moved through the waterway, representing a 4.3% year-on-year increase from 2014 and setting a cargo tonnage record.