Century-old Panama Canal lock drained for maintenance
Panama City, Aug 2 (IANS) The more than century-old Miraflores Lock on the Panama Canal's Pacific side was drained on Thursday for maintenance, a routine operation that will last at least a week but scarcely affect ship traffic.
The work involving more than 600 technicians will focus on the lock gates, an executive in the Panama Canal Authority's Locks Division, Wilfredo Alberto, said, adding that it took 14 hours to empty the chamber, two hours fewer than usual, the Efe news agency reported.
"We do this type of work when client traffic is low. We never do it in high season, so that it has the least possible impact on ship traffic. And we advise our clients well in advance," he added.
Roughly six per cent of world trade crosses through the canal via more than 140 sea routes linking 1,700 ports in 160 different countries.
The waterway, which measures 82 kilometers (51 miles) in length and is considered one of the greatest feats of modern engineering, links the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans and uses a system of locks at different levels that require 2,02,000 cubic meters (7.1 million cubic feet) of water every time a ship passes through.
The two biggest clients of the Panama Canal used to be the US and China, although because of the long-running trade war pitting those two nations Beijing was recently leapfrogged by Japan.
A recent expansion project that added a new set of locks (the devices used to raise and lower ships) and opened in June 2016 has enabled the waterway to handle so-called Neopanamax vessels.
Those ships include vessels that carry up to 13,000 20-foot-long containers and are triple the size of the previous generation of Panamax vessels.
The canal also now can provide service to liquefied natural gas (LNG) and other giant bulk vessels.
The interoceanic waterway was built by the US between 1903 and 1914 and was handed over to Panama on December 31, 1999.
Earlier this year, the canal saw its 6,000th Neopanamax transit.
More than 50 per cent of the Neopanamax vessels that have transited to date have been from the container segment.