Contributed by: Don WinnerThe consortium led by the Spanish construction company Sacyr Vallehermoso - which also includes the Italian company Impregilo, the Belgian company Jan de Nul, and the Panamanian company Cusa - said they would complete the excavation work they have been contracted to do in early 2012, one year ahead of schedule. Despite the acceleration in the excavation phase of the project, the entire project will only be completed a few weeks prior to the date stipulated in the contract, 21 October 2014, so that the inauguration coincides with the 100th anniversary of the commissioning of the original Panama Canal, on 15 August 2014. The good pace of work being maintained on the part of the project to construct the third set of locks is the most news in this project whose main difficulty is not from bad weather, as one might expect in a country where the rainy season lasts from eight to nine months. In fact, calculations by contractors led by Sacyr predict work will be slowed by some 50% but only during days of the most intense rainfall.
"The paperwork, that's the main problem we have encountered so far," said the director of the Grupo Unidos Por El Canal (GUPC), Antonio Zaffaroni, referring to the immense bureaucracy the consortium has to face day to day. Of the $3.198 billion dollars ($2.665 billion Euros) that the consortium will earn for building their part of the project, they have already received an advance of $300 million dollars ($250 million Euros) which was spent on the acquisition of machinery to start work. They will soon receive a second advance, of the three agreed to in the contract, of $100 million dollars (83 million Euros), for the acquisition of electromechanical equipment, while for work accomplished they have only charged $30 million dollars (25 million Euros). The budget for the project is closed, but the consortium could earn up to a maximum of 50 million dollars (42 million euros) paid at a rate of $215,000 per day, if they deliver the project ahead of schedule. However, the penalty is higher if the delivery is delayed - they will have to pay a fine of $300,000 per day up to a total of $54.6 million dollars.
So far, the group expects to be able to remove about 40 million cubic meters of earth, and they now think they will be able to do that in about two years as compared to the three originally planned, allowing for less overlap with the concrete pouring stage, which is more complicated that will take nearly two years. In parallel with the excavations, which began in February this year, they are building ancillary facilities that include an aggregate crushing plant to make concrete, which will be produced in another plant. The aggregates will come from the excavated rock on the Pacific side, because the rocks on the Atlantic side are sandy and are no good for this purpose, and right now the contract to deliver cement still has not been signed, although they are negotiating with both Cemex and Cemento Panama.
The two new systems of locks, which constitute the third set of locks for the Panama Canal, will be built on both the Atlantic and Pacific sides, and will have three chambers each, separated by four blocks of two huge gates each. The expansion, which during the peak of the project will employ about 8,000 construction workers, 90% of that labor local, will allow for the passage of vessels of greater size and depth, while the faster filling and emptying of the chambers will facilitate passage of up to 28 ships per day.