Photo: Panama Canal expansion (PanamaCanal.com)
The first four lock gates for the Panama Canal expansion project arrived at the Atlantic entrance of the interoceanic waterway, where they are to be unloaded in the coming days, authorities said.
The locks, which are 58 meters (190 feet) long, 10 meters wide and 30 meters high, were received Tuesday near the sea port of Colon in an official ceremony headed by Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli, who pulled a lever that set in motion the slow unloading process.
“It will take three or four days” to remove the gates from the ship, Panama Canal Authority Administrator Jorge Luis Quijano said.
The lock gates were manufactured by Italian company Cimolai at a factory near Venice and were transported over a period of nearly a month by sea to the canal’s Atlantic entrance, where they are to be installed.
Four other lock gates are due to arrive this year, while eight more are to reach Panama in the first half of 2014.
The expansion project, begun in 2007 and scheduled to be completed by the first half of 2015, is being carried out by a consortium led by Spain’s Sacyr Vallehermoso and also including Italy’s Impregilo, Belgium’s Jan de Nul and Panama’s CUSA.
The goal of the canal expansion plan, which encompasses several projects and is estimated to cost a total of $5.25 billion, is to double the waterway’s annual capacity from 300 million tons to 600 million tons.
The canal, designed in 1904 to accommodate ships 267 meters (875 feet) in length and 28 meters (92 feet) wide, is too small to handle the “post-Panamax” ships that are three times as big, making it necessary for some time to build the new set of locks.