Early proposals in Panama
The earliest mention of a canal across the Isthmus of Panama dates back to 1534, when Charles V, Holy Roman Emperor and King of Spain, ordered a survey for a route through the Americas that would ease the voyage for ships traveling between Spain and Peru. Such a route would have given the Spanish a military advantage over the Portuguese.
In 1668 the English physician and philosopher Sir Thomas Browne speculated in his encyclopedic endeavor Pseudo Doxia Epidemical – “some Isthmus have been eat through by the Sea, and others cut by the spade: And if policy would permit, that of Panama in America were most worthy the attempt: it being but few miles over, and would open a shorter cut unto the East Indies and China. Given the strategic location of Panama and the potential offered by its narrow isthmus separating two great oceans, other trade links in the area were attempted over the years”.
The Panama Canal (Spanish: Canal de Panamá) is an artificial 48-mile (77 km) waterway in Panama that connects the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific Ocean. The canal cuts across the Isthmus of Panama and is a key conduit for international maritime trade. There are locks at each end to lift ships up to Gatun Lake, an artificial lake created to reduce the amount of excavation work required for the canal, 26 meters (85 ft.) above sea level, and then lower the ships at the other end. The original locks are 33.5 meters (110 ft.) wide. A third, wider lane of locks was constructed between September 2007 and May 2016. The expanded canal began commercial operation on June 26, 2016. The new locks allow transit of larger, Post-Panamax ships, capable of handling more cargo.
France began work on the canal in 1881 but stopped due to engineering problems and a high worker mortality rate. The United States took over the project in 1904 and opened the canal on August 15, 1914. One of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken, the Panama Canal shortcut greatly reduced the time for ships to travel between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, enabling them to avoid the lengthy, hazardous Cape Horn route around the southernmost tip of South America via the Drake Passage or Strait of Magellan.
Colombia, France, and later the United States controlled the territory surrounding the canal during construction. The U.S. continued to control the canal and surrounding Panama Canal Zone until the 1977 Torrijos–Carter Treaties provided for handover to Panama. After a period of joint American–Panamanian control, in 1999 the canal was taken over by the Panamanian government and is now managed and operated by the government-owned Panama Canal Authority.
Annual traffic has risen from about 1,000 ships in 1914, when the canal opened, to 14,702 vessels in 2008, for 333.7 million Panama Canal/Universal Measurement System (PC/UMS) tons. By 2012, more than 815,000 vessels had passed through the canal. It takes six to eight hours to pass through the Panama Canal. The American Society of Civil Engineers has called the Panama Canal one of the seven wonders of the modern world.
Panama Canal Expansion
The Panama Canal Expansion was the largest infrastructure project since the Canal is opening in 1914. Considered and analyzed for a decade with more than 100 studies, the Expanded Canal provides the world’s shippers, retailers, manufacturers and consumers with greater shipping options, better maritime service, enhanced logistics and supply-chain reliability.
Since its inauguration on June 26, 2016, the Expanded Canal increases the waterway’s capacity to meet the growing demand of maritime trade using larger vessels, which means that the Panama route provides important economies of scale.
The Expansion included the construction of a new set of locks on the Atlantic and Pacific sides of the waterway, creating a third lane of traffic and doubling the cargo capacity of the waterway. It also included the creation of the Pacific Access Channel, improvement to the navigational channels, and improvements to the water supply.
While the expanded locks are 70 feet wider and 18 feet deeper than those in the original Canal, they use less water due to water-savings basins that recycle 60 percent of the water used per transit. In line with its commitment to customer service, the Panama Canal will continue to provide the world with value for another century and beyond.
Views from the transit of the Cosco Shipping Panama during the inauguration of the new locks of the expanded Panama Canal.