The Panama Canal has just celebrated a centenary of providing an essential shortcut for ships sailing between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
It was hoped the on-going Panama Canal Expansion project would be completed in time to coincide with the centenary, but strikes and cost overruns have pushed back the scheduled completion date to 2016.
The $3.2 bn expansion began in 2007 to allow the transit of modern-day Post-Panamax super-ships through three gigantic new locks. These vessels now dwarf the Panamax ships that were once considered huge themselves.
The first ship to traverse the 50-mile long Canal 100 years ago was the SS Ancon. In 2010, the Fortune Plum became the 1,000,000th vessel to make the journey.
Today, the Canal is estimated to carry about 3 per cent of the world’s maritime cargo, representing in the region of $270 bn’s worth of trade. Ships take around 10 hours to make the passage, shortening journeys by thousands of miles and dramatically reducing fuel costs.
Marking the centenary, the UK’s Daily Telegraph newspaper lists a number of interesting facts about the Panama Canal, for example that it ‘connects 144 maritime routes calling at 1,700 ports in 160 countries’.
The article goes on to report that ‘the most common cargo vessels to use the waterway each year are container ships (3,103), dry bulk carriers (2,903) and tankers (2,468)’.