World Bulletin / News Desk
A Chinese boat carrying more than 9,000 containers was on Sunday the first ship to travel through the newly widened locks of the Panama Canal.
Pulled by various tugboats, the Cosco Shipping Panama, passed through the new locks at Agua Clara, near Colon, just 80 kilometers (50 miles) from the capital of Panama City.
“We are very happy. This is a great day, a day of national unity and a day for Panama,” said President Juan Carlos Varela during a press conference. “This is a route which has been used for 500 years and one cannot change history. This is the route which unites the world.”
The new locks that have encountered its fair share of controversy, had run significantly over time from the expected inauguration in 2014 and costs spiraled, courting criticism.
As if defying the 20-month delay during the opening, the government and canal authorities organized a massive celebration to mark the event, including the attendance by a dozen heads of state.
“This is the most incredible work of engineering that has been done this century,” Jorge Luis Quintano, an administrator with the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) told reporters. “It is a monument to human talent and will.”
The construction of the $5.25 billion new locks is expected to double the capacity of the canal to move shipping between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.
It is the most ambitious project embarked upon by the Central American nation and Panamanians are hoping it will increase the country’s economic development despite financial crises such as the collapse in oil prices and the Brexit vote.
“The satisfaction that we have in seeing this construction finished leaves a wonderful feeling which washes away all of the difficulties we encountered,” said Quijano.
The cost for a ship the size of the Cosco Shipping Panama -- 300 meters long (984-foot) and 48.2 meters wide (158-foot) -- to travel the 77 kilometers between the two oceans is approximately $586,000 -- paid to the ACP for a journey that takes between eight and 10 hours.
“The expansion of the canal gives us more options, most notably for routes between Asia and South America and between the eastern United States and Asia,” said Anders Boenaes, the Director of the Maersk Line shipping company. “It is likely that the Maersk Line will use the Panama Canal more frequently in the future in sending bigger ships through the new locks,” he added.
More than 1 million ships have passed through the canal since it opened in 1914 by the United States.
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