Panama to start testing new canal locks mid-2015

Tests with ships will begin in mid-2015 on a new set of locks that are a key component of an expansion of the Panama Canal, the waterway’s chief said on Sunday.

The 100-year-old canal, which is major global trade artery, is in the midst of a massive expansion that will allow the world’s largest tankers to pass through the isthmus.

The expansion, which involves building a third set of locks onto the 50-mile (80-km) waterway, was originally scheduled to be completed this year, but has been delayed several times, in part due to a dispute earlier this year because of about $1.6 billion in cost overruns.

The deadline for completion is now January 2016.

On Sunday, Panama Canal Administrator Jorge Quijano said the locks would likely be ready, holding water, by April or May of next year.

“We hope to start a series of tests with the locks next year in the month of July or August,” Quijano said after overseeing the arrival from Italy of a shipment of four new gates for the locks.

The third shipment of four gates for the new locks arrived from Italy at the Atlantic entrance of the waterway, onboard Cosco’s post-panamax vessel Xia Zhi Yuan 6.

The gates left Cimolai Shipyard, Trieste where they were built, on 17 August before crossing the Atlantic Ocean to reach the entrance of the Panama Canal, where they will be unloaded onto a special temporary dock.

Only one shipment is left to be received for all 16 gates required for the third set of locks project. These gates will be used in the new locks at the Pacific side of the Canal. Two of the gates are 57.6 m long, 10 m wide and 31.92 m high, and weigh 4,163 tonnes each. These are the heaviest of the 16 rolling gates to be used in the expanded Canal.

The other two gates are 57.6 m long, 8 m wide and 22.3 m high, and weigh 2,867 tonnes each.The construction of the gates began in October 2011 by subcontractor Cimolai SpA. The new locks will have a total of 16 rolling gates (eight for each new lock complex). Unlike the current Canal, which uses miter gates, the expanded Canal will have rolling gates.

The first gate shipment arrived in Panama on 20 August 20, 2013 and the second on 10 June 2014. The final shipment is expected to arrive in January 2015. Grupo Unidos por el Canal (GUPC) is the contractor for the design and construction of the third set of locks. All gates must be in Panama by February 2015, as agreed between the Panama Canal Authority and the contractor.