Panama Eyes Fourth Set of Locks

By on July 2, 2013
Workers under the Third Set of Locks project on the Atlantic side.

Panama considers further expansion to accommodate Super Post-Panamax ships

The Panama Canal Authority is studying the construction of a fourth set of new locks, parallel to the third set of locks presently under construction as part of a US$5.2 billion expansion project. The plans were unveiled at AAPA’s Latin America Congress of Ports held last week in Bogata, Colombia.

“We are looking at the demand and demand is what [will] rule [the project],” Rodolfo Sabonge, executive vice president of commercial planning and development for the PCA, said during a presentation. “Size will matter.”

The current Panama Canal expansion is due to be completed in June 2015. It consists of two new sets of locks, one on the Pacific and one on the Atlantic side of the Canal, as well as widening and deepening of navigational channels in Gatun Lake and the deepening of Culebra Cut. The expansion will accommodate larger post-panamax vessels, but it won’t allow for the passage of Super Post-Panamax ships.

The fleet of Super Post-Panamax ships was 3 percent in 2013 in terms of cargo units and will grow to 9 percent by 2016, Sabonge said.

Meanwhile, Nicaragua has announced its intentions to build its own transoceanic canal. At an estimated cost of US$40 billion, Nicaragua’s canal would be wider and longer than the Panama Canal, and big enough for the largest vessels. Ronald MacLean Abaroa, an adviser to HKND, the Chinese firm that will build the canal, was quoted by La Paz as saying, “Nicaragua will become by far the richest country in Central America.” Nicaragua’s plan includes building ports, an airport, pipeline and a railway. Work should begin in May 2014 after a feasibility study is completed, Abaroa said.