Freight News, Sea

The Panama Canal Marks its 108th Anniversary

[ August 19, 2022   //   ]

The Panama Canal celebrated its 108th anniversary on August 15, a legacy marked by continued contributions to international trade and record-breaking figures in recent years.

Since its inauguration on August 15, 1914, and even more so with the Expansion of its capacity in 2016, the Panama Canal has leveraged its geographic location to reshape world commerce, reducing the time, costs, and environmental impacts associated with the transportation of finished goods and raw materials.

The Canal now connects 180 maritime routes that reach 1,920 ports in 170 countries around the world. In 2021, the Panama Canal handled 2.4% of global maritime trade.

“This anniversary reinforces the waterway’s commitment in providing value to our customers while offering opportunities to our workforce for the benefit of our country and global trade,” said Panama Canal Administrator Ricaurte Vásquez Morales.

A New Record
While in operation for more than a century, the Panama Canal continues to break records for the benefit of the shipping industry. Last month, a new record was set when the containership CMA CGM Zephyr passed through the Neopanamax Locks, and became the largest ship by cargo capacity to ever transit.

The huge containership Zephyr, with a total capacity of 16,285 twenty-foot equivalent units or TEUs, completed its return journey through the Neopanamax Locks on July 1st this year.

Although the Neopanamax Locks were initially expected to serve vessels with a maximum capacity of 12,600 TEUs, the Panama Canal team surpassed this limit through experience gained by operating the locks and close collaboration with customers.

The Critical Role of Maintenance
Rigorous maintenance has proven critical to safeguarding the Canal’s service in recent decades. The Panamax locks used by the SS Ancon in the waterway’s inaugural transit continue operating due to a robust multi-year maintenance program.

The most recent maintenance took place in a dry chamber on the east lane of the Miraflores Locks last July, and consisted of the replacement of two gates and a change of seals and valves, among other works. The procedure was possible thanks to the efforts of nearly 300 workers from different divisions, who worked nine continuous days, in two 12-hour shifts, with almost 200 workers per day.

Continued Environmental Commitment
The Panama Canal also fulfills a key environmental responsibility domestically: safeguarding the quantity and quality of water for its operations, as well as human consumption.

This commitment was reinforced by the recent launch of the Center for Innovation, Research and Hydro-environmental Technology (CITEC, in Spanish). The initiative, promoted by the Panama Canal with the support of the Technological University of Panama, aims to bolster the protection of nearby water resources.

Last year, the Panama Canal also pledged to become carbon neutral by 2030. As part of this commitment, it developed an annual greenhouse gas (GHG) inventory, as well as an action plan with measurable objectives to reduce emissions.

Preserving Water Resources
Additionally, and as part of the responsible water management, the Canal carried out annual operational tests of the 14 gates of the Gatun spillway in the Atlantic side.

The tests took place at the end of July, rather than October as is usual, due to higher levels of rainfall this year brought on by the La Niña phenomenon.

At the time of the opening of the gates, water levels at Gatun Lake were at 87.55 feet, 1.45 feet below its the maximum operating level, which is typically reached between November and December. The objective is to verify that the 14 gates of the Gatun spillway are available for flood control when the reservoir reaches its critical levels in the last quarter of the year.

Through all these actions, the Panama Canal ensures that it continues providing the safe, reliable, and continuous service that has positioned the waterway as a vital link for global trade over the past 108 years.