Mar 15, 2013
Panama canal expansion reaches halfway markBack
© Reuse this
During the construction process (which has been afflicted by disruptive industrial-relations events) Medupi’s labour force will peak at more than 17 000 people and the sleepy town of Lephalale, in Limpopo, will be transformed with new housing units, hotels and shopping centres.
But arguably the world’s most imagination-capturing current mega-engineering projects is the initiative to double the capacity of the Panama Canal by 2015.
The canal, which was initially completed in 1914, links the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans and has since been regarded as a key conduit for international maritime trade.
The expansion plan is driven by necessity and desire. The necessity relates to the dramatic upscaling in the size of container ships, which the existing system is unable to accommodate. The desire is to bolster the canal's competitive position against a range of current of possible future alternatives.
To align the famous waterway with the emergence of super-sized cargo ships, or new Panamax-sized vessels, that carry up to 12 000 twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) containers, the Panama Canal Expansion aims to materially expand beyond the current capacity constraint of handling vessels carrying around 4 400 TEUs.
Panamax is shipping jargon for the biggest vessels that can traverse the current Panama Canal (the size constraints being the length, width and depth of the canal’s locks) and postpanamax constitutes ships that are too big to use the canal.
At a cost of $5.25-billion, the expansion project is 50% complete, but at least six months behind its eight-year project time schedule. Panama Canal Authority (PCA) administrator Jorge Quijano says the increased capacity of the canal will benefit the shipping trade worldwide.
“We estimate that, based on the progress, we can begin commercial transits mid-2015,” he said. The Panama Canal Expansion Project will be the largest project at the waterway since its original construction in 1914.
The objectives of the expansion project are to ensure that the canal remains competitive, increase its capacity to permit larger vessels, reduce the freshwater consumed in its operation, and increase safety and efficiency, as well as sustain growth in the tonnage transiting the canal and in the profitability of the PCA.
What the Mega-Project Entails
The dredging of the navigational channels is complete, including both canal entrances on the Pacific and Atlantic sides and the Gaillard Cut. The remaining dredging work in the Gatun Lake is scheduled for completion this year.
Excavation of the Pacific lock access channel comprises four phases. Three of the four phases are complete, with phase four currently 70% complete. The project requires the excavation of more than 50-million cubic metres of materials along a 6.1 km stretch of the canal.
By the end of this year, 158 culvert, equalisation and conduit valves, 84 bulkheads and 328 trash racks will have arrived for the project. The valves were built in South Korea by Hyundai Samho Heavy Industries.
Construction of the new locks is 37% complete. The new lock complexes in the Pacific and Atlantic sides will feature three chambers, three water-saving basins per chamber, a lateral filling and emptying system and rolling gates.
The new locks will each be 427 m long, 55 m wide and 18.3 m deep, with a beam of 49 m and a draught of 15.2 m, which can allow ships of up to 366 m in length to use them.
In comparison, the existing locks are each 304.8 m long, 55 m wide and 18.3 m deep, with a beam of 32.3 m and a draught of 12.4 m, which can accommodate ships of up to 294.1 m in length.
The construction of the new locks involves the use of 1 506 t of gel explosives, 3 600 t of ammonium nitrate explosives, 4.9-million cubic metres of concrete, 1.12-million tons of cement to produce that concrete, 436 000 t of pozzolana (volcanic ash or ground slag from a blast furnace) to mix with the concrete, 279 000 t of reinforcement steel for the concrete, 47 200 t of structural steel for the lock gates and 20 000 t of structural steel for the lock valves.
The excavation of the new locks required the removal of 155-million cubic metres of earth, while construction of the existing locks required the removal of 200-million cubic metres. Mining equipment was used to speed up the work.
The canal remains open and operational while the expansion work is continuing.
By providing a short, relatively inexpensive passageway between these two oceans, the canal has influenced world trade patterns and spurred growth in developed countries; it has also been a primary impetus for economic expansion in many remote areas of the world, states a report by the PCA.
A vessel laden with coal sailing from the east coast of the US to Japan through the Panama Canal sails about 4 800 km less than any other all-water route.
Most of the traffic through the canal moves between the east coast of the US and the Far East, while movements between Europe and the west coast of the US and Canada comprise the second major trade route of the waterway.
However, other regions and countries, such as the neighbouring countries of Central and South America, are proportionately more dependent on this vital artery to promote their economic development and expand trade.
Since the canal first opened on August 15, 1914, the waterway has provided a transit service to more than 815 000 vessels. Despite the increase in the number and size of the vessels in recent years, the total average time spent by a vessel at the Panama Canal still remains slightly less than 24 hours.
This remarkable level of performance can be attributed to the team of trained professionals trained to providing rapid transit service and to the timely implementation of improvements designed to meet rising traffic demands. About $10-million dollars is spent each year on training programmes to prepare Panamanians for the operation and maintenance of the canal.
“About 30% of vessels travel through the canal. The nature of the improvements in the canal reflects the ever-increasing role of Panamax vessels in the movement of world commerce. Using of the all-water route through the Panama Canal will continue to be an important, cost-effective transportation mode for a significant segment of world trade,” reports the PCA.
On the eve of World War II, the US attempted to build a second set of locks to allow the transit of larger commercial vessels and warships. The work was started in 1939 but was subsequently aborted because of the war. The canal has since had no major upgrades.
In October 2006, the citizens of Panama voted to expand the Panama Canal to allow for more transits and bigger ships. The international maritime industry will benefit directly from the expansion through lower shipping costs and global consumers will eventually benefit from the greater capacity and efficiency of the canal.
However, media partner for professionals in the logistics of over-dimensional and heavy cargos, Heavy Lift & Project Forwarding International, states that it is likely that there will be another expansion project to cater for 18 000 TEU ships at the Panama Canal.
Most South African shipping firms have stated that the expansion is unlikely to improve or affect their business.
“We don’t believe the expansion project will have a significant impact on trade in South Africa. For Grindrod, specifically, some of our ships carrying grain may use this route, but since they are handysize vessels, the expansion will have no impact on our business,” says Grindrod Shipping CEO Martyn Wade.
Edited by: Creamer Media Reporter© Reuse this Comment Guidelines
Other Trade News
Article contains comments
The growing demand for beer, carbonated soft drinks and other beverages in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) is expected to expand the sub-region’s beverage manufacturing sector between 2012 and 2019, global growth consulting firm Frost & Sullivan says in a statement. This...
Updated 7 hours ago Outgoing Eskom CEO Brian Dames reported on Tuesday that the utility was considering restarting some of the energy-saving programmes that were suspended in late 2013 as a result of funding constraints. Speaking at a briefing hosted by the South African Chamber of...
Updated 7 hours ago Six out of ten respondents in a survey conducted by Rand Merchant Bank (RMB) and the Bureau for Economic Research (BER) were unhappy with prevailing business conditions, the RMB/BER first quarter Business Confidence Index (BCI) has shown. The BCI fell by two points...
Recent Research Reports
Automotive 2014: A review of South Africa's automotive sector (PDF Report)
The report provides insight into the business environment, the key participants in the sector, local construction demand, geographic diversification, competition within the sector, corporate activity, skills, safety, environmental considerations and the challenges...
Construction 2014: A review of South Africa's construction sector (PDF Report)
Construction data released during 2013 hints at a halt to the decline in the industry during the last few years, with some commentators averring that the industry could be poised for recovery. However, others have urged caution, noting that the prospects for a...
Electricity 2014: A Review of South Africa's Electricity Sector (PDF Report)
This report provides an overview of the state of electricity generation and transmission in South Africa and examines electricity planning, investment in generation capacity, electricity tariffs, the role of independent power producers and demand-focused initiatives,...
Defence 2013: A review of South Africa's defence industry (PDF Report)
Creamer Media’s 2013 Defence Report examines South Africa’s defence industry, with particular focus on the key players in the sector, the innovations that have come out of the defence sector, local and export demand, South Africa’s controversial...
Road and Rail 2013: A review of South Africa's road and rail infrastructure (PDF Report)
Creamer Media’s Road and Rail 2013 Report examines South Africa’s road and rail transport system, with particular focus on the size and state of the country’s road and rail network, the funding and maintenance of these respective networks, and the push to move...
Liquid Fuels 2013 (PDF Report)
Creamer Media’s 2013 Liquid Fuels report examines South Africa’s liquid fuels market, focusing on the business environment, oil and gas exploration, the country’s feedstock supplies, the development of South Africa’s biofuels industry, fuel pricing,...
This Week's Magazine
Creamer Media’s Electricity 2014 report provides insight into South Africa’s electricity generation, exploring the issues of State-owned power utility Eskom's generated power, coal supplies, electricity tariffs and demand-focused initiatives, as well as the...
This month’s report includes details of junior miner Papillon Resources’ mining permit for its flagship Fekola gold project, in Mali; the Waterberg Coal Company’s feasibility on the development of an opencast mine, in Limpopo, to produce ten-million tonnes a...
A structured approach, wherein managers personally engage at each level of the project, is necessary to mitigate delays to the workflow on mega construction projects, says State-owned Eskom Kusile power station projects GM Abram Masango. The 4 800 MW Kusile power...
Construction of transmission lines to evacuate power from a regional hydroelectric project in East Africa, which was hanging on the balance following the withdrawal of financing by key partners, is now back on track. After six months of uncertainty, the African...
Three Memorandums of Understanding (MoUs) were signed between South African and Malaysian companies at the Malaysian High Commission in Pretoria on Friday. These MoUs are part of the indirect offsets programme South Africa is providing in return for Malaysia’s...