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Panama Canal - El Canal de Panamá


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Multimedia:
Panama Canal Expansion Videos- Videos de Ampliacion del Canal

The Panama Canal (Spanish: Canal de Panamá) is a major ship canal that traverses the Isthmus of Panama in Central America, connecting the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Construction of the canal was one of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken. It has had an enormous impact on shipping between the two oceans, obviating the long and treacherous route via the Drake Passage and Cape Horn at the southernmost tip of South America. A ship sailing from New York to San Francisco via the canal travels 9,500 km (6,000 miles), well under half the distance of the previous 22,500 km (14,000 mi) route around Cape Horn. Although the concept of a canal near Panama dates back to the early 16th century, the first attempt to construct a canal began in 1880 under French leadership. After this attempt collapsed, the project of building a canal was attempted and completed by the United States in Panama in 1914, when the canal opened. The building of the 77 km (48 mi) canal was plagued by problems, including disease (particularly malaria and yellow fever) and landslides. As many as 27,500 workers are estimated to have died during construction of the canal.


Since opening, the canal has been enormously successful, and continues to be a key conduit for international shipping. Each year more than 14,000 ships pass through the canal, carrying more than 203 million tons of cargo. By 2002 about 800,000 ships had used the canal altogether.

The canal can accommodate vessels from small private yachts up to fairly large commercial ships. The maximum size of vessel that can use the canal is known as Panamax; an increasing number of modern ships exceed this limit, and are known as post-Panamax vessels. A typical passage through the canal by a cargo ship takes around nine hours. 14,011 vessels passed through in 2005, with a total capacity of 278.8 million tons, making an average of almost 40 vessels per day.

El Faro: Published by the Panama ACP

 

The Panama Canal
Watch this Video of How the Panama Canal Works
Canal de Panama
At the Miraflores Locks of the Panama Canal, about a hundred tourists watch as a gigantic cruise ship is towed into position for its descent to the Pacific Ocean. They are seated on an open-air balcony that provides a bird's-eye view of the action. Guides explain the working of the locks over a microphone, as the tourists excitedly snap photos and wave to passengers on the cruise ship. The ship begins to descend as water is drained from the lock in front to the one below. In a surprisingly short time, the water levels of the two locks are balanced and the massive lock gates begin to swing open. The tractors, or mules, that tow the ship draw their chains taunt, creep for- ward, and the cruise ship slides into the next lock, like a gigantic actor stepping off the stage.
Watch this videos of how the new Panama Canal will work after its enlargement.
It is a scene that is repeated over and over, as 14,000 ships traverse the Panama Canal each year. Yet it is somehow always fascinating to see the working of one of mankind's greatest engineering feats: the Eighth Wonder of the World, the Panama Canal. Tourists will find excellent facilities in Panama for observing and learning about the Canal. At the Miraflores Locks on the Pacific side and the Gatun Locks on the Atlantic, you can observe the working of the Canal from well-placed balconies. The Panama Interoceanic Canal Museum, in the Casco Viejo of Panama City, details Panama's history as a transoceanic route. In this excellent museum are found memorabilia from colonial Spanish times, such as muskets, sabers, cannonballs and coins, an exhibit dedicated to the Gold Rush and the building of the Panama Rail- road, charts, maps, photos of the Canal excavation, stock certificates from the bankrupted French Canal Company and copies of the Hay-Bunau Varrilla and Torrijos-Carter treaties. There is even a photo of Richard Halliburton, an adventurer who swam the canal in the 1920s and paid the lowest toll ever: 36 cents, based on his weight of 140 pounds.
Tourists can also boat through a part of the Canal, on Lake Gatun, which supplies most of the water for the locks. The 163 square-mile lake is the Canal's highest point, at 85 feet above sea level. Green and red buoys mark the route for ships traversing the lake under their own power. From a public dock at the town of Gamboa, site of the Canal's dredging division, boats carry tourists on excursions to the Smithsonian research station on the is- land of Barro Colorado, or to fish for peacock bass which thrive in the lake's warm waters. You can also take a nighttime cruise on Lake Gatun to observe crocodiles. Crocs up to 18 feet long live in the lake, so be careful! Just beyond Gamboa is the famed Pipeline Road, where ecstatic birders have set world records year after year in the Audubon Society's Christmas bird count.

Extreme Engineering: Widening the Panama Canal #1

Extreme Engineering: Widening the Panama Canal #2

There were fears that efficiency and maintenance would suffer following the U.S. withdrawal; however, this does not appear to be the case, and the canal's efficiency appears to be improving under Panamanian control. Canal Waters Time (CWT), the average time it takes a vessel to navigate the canal, including waiting time, is a key measure of efficiency; according to the ACP, CWT is decreasing. At the same time, the rate of accidents is at a record low.

Increasing volumes of imports from Asia which previously landed in the U.S. west coast ports are now traveling through the canal to the east coast. The total number of vessel transits in fiscal year 1999 was 14,336; this fell to a low of 13,154 in 2003, due at least in part to global economic factors, but has risen to 14,194 in 2006 (the canal’s fiscal year runs from October to September). However, this has been coupled with a steady rise in average ship size and in the numbers of Panamax vessels transiting, so that the total tonnage carried has risen steadily from 227.9 million PC/UMS tons in fiscal year 1999 to 296.0 million tons in 2006. Given the negative impact of vessel size on the rate of transits (for example, the inability of large vessels to cross in the Gaillard Cut), this represents significant overall growth in canal capacity, despite the reduction in total transits. The canal set a traffic record on March 13, 2006, when 1,070,023 PC/UMS tons transited the waterway. , beating the previous record of 1,005,551 PC/UMS tons set on March 16, 2004.

The canal administration has invested nearly US$1 billion in widening and modernizing the canal, with the aim of increasing capacity by 20%. The canal authority cites a number of major improvements, including the widening and straightening of the Gaillard Cut to reduce restrictions on crossing vessels, the deepening of the navigational channel in Gatun Lake to reduce draft restrictions and improve water supply, and the deepening of the Atlantic and Pacific Entrances of the Canal. This is supported by new vessels, such as a new drill barge and suction dredger, and an increase of the tugboat fleet by 20%. In addition, improvements have been made to the operating machinery of the canal, including an increased and improved tug locomotive fleet, the replacement of more than 16 kilometres of locomotive track, and new lock machinery controls. Improvements have been made to the traffic management system to allow more efficient control over ships in the canal.

Extreme Engineering: Widening the Panama Canal #3

 

Extreme Engineering: Widening the Panama Canal #4

 

Extreme Engineering: Widening the Panama Canal #5

The withdrawal of the U.S. has allowed Panama to sell excess electricity produced by the canal's dams, which was previously prohibited by the U.S. government. Only 25% of the hydroelectric power produced in the canal system is required to run the canal.

Panama Canal expansion project

The Third Set of Locks Project is a megaproject that will expand the Panama Canal. The expansion will be greater than at any time since the canal's construction. The Panama Canal Authority proposed the project after years of study. Panamanian President Martín Torrijos presented the plan on April 24, 2006 and Panamanian citizens approved it in a national referendum by 76.8% of votes on October 22, 2006. The project will double the canal's capacity and allow more traffic.

The project will create a new lane of traffic along the Canal by constructing a new set of locks. Details of the project include the following integrated components:

Construction of two lock complexes — one on the Atlantic side and another on the Pacific side — each with three chambers, which include three water-saving basins;
Excavation of new access channels to the new locks and the widening of existing navigational channels; and,
Deepening of the navigation channels and the elevation of Gatun Lake’s maximum operating level.
As stipulated by the Panamanian Constitution, any project to expand the Canal had to be approved by the Cabinet, the National Assembly and by a referendum. On Friday July 14, the National Assembly unanimously approved the proposal. In addition, the Assembly passed a law mandating a national referendum on the proposal. The referendum was held on October 22, 2006, the first Sunday more than 90 days after National Assembly approval.

The Project

The Canal today has two lanes each with its own set of locks. The proposal consists of adding a third lane through the construction of lock complexes at each end of the Canal. One lock complex will be located on the Pacific side to the southwest of the existing Miraflores Locks. The other complex will be located to the east of the existing Gatun Locks. Each of these new lock complexes will have three consecutive chambers designed to move vessels from sea level to the level of Gatun Lake and back down again. Each chamber will have three lateral water-saving basins, for a total of nine basins per lock and 18 basins total. Just like the existing locks, the new locks and their basins will be filled and emptied by gravity, without the use of pumps. The location of the new locks uses a significant portion of the area excavated by the United States in 1939 and suspended in 1942 because of the start of World War II. The new locks will be connected to the existing channel system through new navigational channels.

The new lock chambers will be 427 meters (1,400 feet) long, by 55 meters (180 feet) wide, and 18.3 meters (60 feet) deep. They will use rolling gates instead of miter gates, which are used by the existing locks. Rolling gates are used in almost all existing locks with dimensions similar to those being proposed, and are a well-proven technology. The new locks will use tugboats to position the vessels instead of locomotives. As in the case of the rolling gates, tugs are successfully and widely utilized for these purposes in locks of similar dimensions.


Navigational channels
According to the plan, a 3.2 km-long access channel will be excavated to connect the new Atlantic locks with the existing sea entrance of the Canal. To connect the new Pacific-side locks with the existing channels, two new access channels will be built:

The north access channel, which will connect the new Pacific-side lock with the Gaillard Cut, circumventing Miraflores Lake, and which will be 6.2 km long; and,
The south access channel, which will connect the new lock with the existing sea entrance on the Pacific Ocean, and which will be 1.8 km long (see figure 5). The new channels will be at least 218 meters (715 feet) wide, both on the Atlantic and Pacific sides, which will permit Post-Panamax vessels to navigate in these channels in a single direction at any time.

Gatun Lake raised 1.5 feet
All Canal elevations are referred to Precise Level Datum (PLD), which is close to Atlantic and Pacific entrance mean sea level. The maximum operational level of Gatun Lake will be raised by approximately 0.45 meters (1.5 feet) — from the present PLD level of 26.7 meters (87.5 feet) to a PLD level of 27.1 meters (89 feet). Combined with the widening and deepening of the navigational channels, this component will increase Gatun Lake’s usable water reserve capacity and will allow the Canal’s water system to supply a daily average of 165 million gallons (625 million liters) of additional water. This additional water volume is enough to provide an annual average of approximately 1,100 additional lockages without affecting the water supply for human use, which is provided from Gatun and Alhajuela Lakes.

Master Plan 2005-2025

 

Canal de la Discordia: Punto de vista de varios sectores de Panamá.
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Last Modified September 15, 2007