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Thursday, April 24 2014 @ 09:34 AM EDT

The Expansion Of The Panama Canal Will Allow For Ships With Triple The Volume Capacity

Canal Expansion
Construction On The New Locks As Part Of The Project To Expand The Panama Canal
Construction On The New Locks As Part Of The Project To Expand The Panama Canal
The expansion of the Panama Canal, a project involving the Spanish company Sacyr Vallehermoso and the Panamanian company Constructora Urbana, will allow for the transit of vessels carrying three times the amount of cargo, compared to those currently using the existing Panama Canal, starting in October 2014. "I think it will be one of the engineering milestones of this century," said the Spanish engineer Ametller Sergi in Venice (northeastern Italy), who is the Electro-mechanical manager of the project, part of the consortium building the project - the Grupo Unidos por el Canal (GUPC) - which also includes the Italian company Impregilo and Belgium's Jan de Nul, responsible for building a third branch to join the two existing ones.

To achieve this they are using $3.2 billion dollars to build two new channel outputs, one in the Atlantic and one in the Pacific, through which will pass ships carrying 12,600 containers and of 366 meters in length, an increase from the current maximum of 4,400 containers and 294 meters in length of the ships that pass through the Panama Canal today.

Each of the exits to the ocean will consist of three water chambers closed with locks that will raise them the 27 meters between the two oceans and Lake Gatun - situated in the middle of the canal - and following the operation of such systems, boats advance to equilibrate the water level between adjacent chambers.

According to project leaders, the expansion will allow a ship to pass through the new locks on each side of the canal in about two hours, and to complete its passage through the Panama Canal in an average of 10 hours.

The difficulty of extending the canal lies in the dimensions of the work, which will have 158 valves and 16 gates, each weighing a total of 50,000 tons, which today are being built in factories that the Italian company Cimolai has close to Venice.

"The gates are the most technically complex part of the project," said Ametller, who explained that, while those already installed in the channel are hinged, the new gates are on rollers and they have a height equivalent to a 20-story building, and that a good portion of their interior is empty so they can be dragged to close and open the lock.

As explained by the Spanish engineer, the gates operate in a dual system to ensure that in case of breakdown, the branch continues to operate and there are different sizes depending on the ocean side where they are located.

"The biggest ones will be on the Pacific side where there is the most seismic hazard, and because the tides are higher," noted the manager, who said they are being built with "100% European steel" from Italy, the Czech Republic, Macedonia, Germany and Poland, and they will be moved by boat to Panama - "in fours" - during 2013 for testing in early 2014 and to have completed the project on October 21, 2014.

The largest of these gates are 33 meters high and weigh 4,300 tons, and the installation of these structures will begin on the Atlantic side once they have built the concrete base on which they will be placed through a mechanism calculated down to the millimeter by the engineers who designed the enlargement.

A system side pools allows for the reuse of 60% of the water in each compartment, so as to reduce the total consumption by 7%, and the operation of the facility will be reviewed from a number of control points.

The passage of water from the lake to the compartments and between the pools shall be regulated through the use of 158 valves built by the Hyundai car company in Korea.

The consortium estimates that a large freighter passing through the Canal will use about 200 million liters of water, but that the ship be "more efficient" and "in smaller numbers" and on the other hand will have less of an impact than a larger number of smaller vessels, according to the environmental manager, Panamanian Luis Villarreal.

GUPC should guarantee 99.6% availability for navigation, or they could be penalized and they even might have to take over the maintenance of enlargement during the first two years following the completion of the project.

But officials of the consortium are optimistic because the project is "under constant audit" and "tests", and so far 15% of the work on the gates has been completed, so that the timetables fall in line with the deadlines, concluded Ametller. (Panama America)

Editor's Comment: Designed by a Spanish engineer. Valves built by Hyundai. And a Panamanian environmentalist. What could go wrong?

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