The third channel for the Panama Canal will open to traffic following strikes and cost overruns which have delayed the opening by almost two years.
The official opening had been due to coincide with the 2014 centenary of the Panama Canal, which is often described as the greatest engineering feat ever. The widened waterway will accommodate mega-container ships and other vessels that are too big and heavy to use it at present.
China COSCO Shipping has won the draw for the first transit through the expanded canal. Its container vessel Andronikos will make the transit on the inauguration day.
The Panama Canal opened on Aug 15, 1914, after 34 years of construction. It is estimated that over 80,000 people worked on it and that some 30,000 lives, French then American, were lost in the effort.
Nationwide, construction workers went on strike in May 2014, demanding higher wages and halting work on hundreds of projects that included the extra channel. A dispute in early 2015 between the consortium in charge of the project, Grupo Unidos por el Canal, and the Panama Canal Authority over cost overruns stopped work on the project for several weeks. The dispute has gone to arbitration.
The new locks on the Atlantic and Pacific side opened several months earlier to allow for testing before the official opening. Work on the Atlantic side of the canal was more advanced at the time because the consortium was able to use part of an excavation that the United States began before World War II in order to move battleships from the Atlantic through to the Pacific. That work was abandoned in 1942.
Date written/update: 2016-04-20