Panama Canal: Plug Blasting Underway

By MarEx 2015-12-30 16:58:25

The Panama Canal is now 96 percent complete with the removal of the northern plug separating the new Pacific Access Channel from the Culebra Cut.

The blasting of the plug began on December 24. Located south of the Centennial Bridge on the Pacific side of the canal, the plug separated Gatun Lake and the 63 kilometer Pacific Access Channel.

Dredging will begin once blasting is complete, leaving one last temporary plug separating the Pacific Access Channel and the Pacific-facing Cocoli Locks.

Tonnage Record

2015 was an historic year for the Panama Canal Authority (ACP). In 2015, the Canal transited the most tonnage in its 101-year history. Specifically, 340.8 million Panama Canal tons (PC/UMS) of cargo moved through the waterway, representing a 4.3 percent year-on-year increase from 2014 and setting a cargo tonnage record. 

The previous record was set in 2012, when 333.7 million PC/UMS tons transited the waterway. This year's record tonnage surpassed 2012 by more than seven million tons, highlighting the increased demand for and value of the Canal 

Restructuring Tolls 

Early in 2015, the ACP proposed a new tolls structure. The approval from the Panama Canal’s Board of Directors followed more than a year of consultations with industry representatives, an open call for comments, and a public hearing to solicit feedback on the proposed changes. The restructured tolls, which will feature a customer loyalty program for the container segment, will go into effect on April 1, 2016. 

Building Bridges
The ACP marked another milestone this year when it broke ground to build a third bridge that spans the Canal. Work on the infrastructure project is progressing smoothly towards its anticipated completion in 2017. Once opened, it will connect the city of Colon and communities west of the Canal, linking the two regions, generating development, stimulating local economies and boosting tourism. 

Port of Corozal 

Outside of expanding the Canal, the ACP is focused on several other synergistic business initiatives that provide new products and services for its customers and the maritime industry. The new Corozal Port is the most advanced of these enterprises, enhancing the Canal’s offering and diversifying its revenue base. There are nine initiatives total within the master plan in varying degrees of analysis, study and consideration. 

On November 26, the ACP issued a Request for Qualifications for companies interested in competing to design, develop, finance, construct, operate and maintain the Corozal Container Terminal. Nearly all of the world’s largest port operators expressed interest. 

Among the project’s requirements is the need to develop a green terminal to limit impact on the environment. The terminal, which will be located at the Pacific entrance of the waterway, will feature anti-noise perimeter walls and electrical devices producing zero carbon emissions, along with a number of other elements recommended by an environmental impact study. Once operational, the terminal will produce up to 2,600 permanent jobs.
Additionally, a logistics park is currently under study, with a Roll-On/Roll-Off Terminal, a LNG Bunkering facility, and top-off operations for dry-bulk carriers, among others, being analyzed or considered. 

Commitment to Sustainability 

This year, the Expansion Project’s unique water-saving basins were completed. These water-savings basins employ state-of-the-art European technology that will allow the Canal, for the first time ever, to recycle water used during lockage of transiting vessels. Specifically, nearly 60 percent of the millions of gallons of water used per lockage in the new locks will be recycled. 

Simulator Training 

The ACP invested in new equipment and modeling software at its state-of-the-art Center of Simulation, Research and Maritime Development (SIDMAR). The upgraded SIDMAR facility offers the same immersive, 360-degree training experiences that Canal Pilots and Tugboat Captains previously had access to; however, it now provides training that simulates transiting a Neo Panamax vessel in a fully expanded canal, with elements such as the new locks and navigational channels. In 2016, an even more comprehensive program will be provided and will include a simulator, scale model and in-field training with Portable Pilot Units (PPUs). 

Scale Model Maneuvering Training 

To complement the SIDMAR training, the ACP spent the past year constructing a Scale Model Maneuvering Training Facility, which will open early next year. It is one of the few facilities devoted to ship handling and training on a miniature scale, and is based on the industry leading Port Revel facility in France. Once complete, the 35.3–acre facility, which includes two lakes connected by a 518-meter channel modeling the Culebra Cut, will be the world’s largest of its kind. 

The facility will be equipped with wave and wind generators and feature a number of meticulously created 1:25 scale model ships, each with helms, electric engines, bow and stern thruster controls, mooring lines and operational anchors. Steering one of the miniature vessels mimics the feeling of being on a full-size vessel and allows Pilots and Tugboat Captains to practice their skills under alternate and, some argue, more realistic conditions than in simulators. 

Transits and Other Training 

In addition to these and other training programs, the ACP has made preparations to charter Neo Panamax vessels to conduct trial transits once the locks are complete to provide further training. Moreover, the ACP has conducted exercises on three occasions where ships transited the existing Canal without the use of locomotives. Some Pilots have also participated in theoretical and practical training programs at the Berendrecht lock in Belgium, currently the largest in the world, which is of similar design and operation to the expanded Canal.