Sunday, August 25, 2013

Container and Bulk Shipping Lines Wait Expectantly as Panama Canal Expansion Proceeds

Massive Gates Arrive to Bring Post Panamax Era Closer
Shipping News Feature

PANAMA – The eyes of many executives who head up some of the world’s biggest container shipping lines, not to mention bulk ocean carriers and cruise companies, are currently focused on the current expansion of the Panama Canal, and all the implications it has on the future of pan-oceanic trade. Last week saw the first four gates for the new locks arriving from the port of Trieste, Italy to the waterway's Atlantic side on board the semi-submersible vessel STX Sun Rise. Built by subcontractor Cimolai, the first four gates measures 57.6 x 10 x 30.19 metres, and weigh an average of an incredible 3,100 tonnes.

The steel gates will be transported to their final position using the same self-propelled motorised wheel transporters (SPMT’s) that are used to load and unload from the ship. They will be installed in the middle chamber of the new locks in the Atlantic side. According to the Panama Canal Authority, the expansion programme is now 62% complete. It involves the construction of a third lane of traffic allowing the passage of Post-Panamax vessels, which will double the Canal's capacity. Panama Canal Administrator Jorge L. Quijano said:

"This is an exciting moment for the Panama Canal - the arrival of the new gates marks a great progress for this engineering project. With the expansion, we will further reinforce our position as the maritime and logistics hub of the Americas."

The new locks of the expanded Panama Canal utilise water-saving basin (WSB) technology, the most efficient system to reduce the volume of water to be used by the new locks. The WSB’s work as water-damming structures located adjacent to the locks and connected to them by culverts regulated by flow valves. The new locks, with three water-saving basins on each chamber, will use 7% less water per transit than the existing locks. The locks have a total of 16 rolling gates (eight for each new lock complex). The gates are being shipped four at a time from Italy and first they will be unloaded onto a temporary dock until ready for installation. Unlike the current Canal configuration, which uses miter gates, the expanded Canal will have steel rolling gates.

These rolling gates will operate from adjacent recesses located perpendicular to the lock chambers. Such a gate configuration allows each recess to perform as a dry dock, which in turn enables servicing the gates on site without the need to remove them and therefore interrupt lock operations. Miter gates, as the ones currently in operation, do not have a recess, which makes it necessary to remove and transport them to a dry dock for overhaul, a process requiring the interruption of lock operations