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Panama Canal, Handling 5% of World Trade, Sees Delayed Expansion

Jan. 17 (Bloomberg) -- The $5.25 billion expansion of the Panama Canal, the waterway handling 5 percent of world trade, will open for commercial ship transits later than originally planned, its administrator said.

Widening and deepening of the 80-kilometer (50 miles) waterway will be finished to allow commercial transits by June 2015, six months later than first intended, Jorge Luis Quijano, the Panama Canal Authority’s administrator, said in a telephone interview today. The authority’s website says the project will be completed by December 2014.

“The project is not as on time as I would have liked it to have been,” he said. Construction of the third set of wider locks to fit larger vessels is “not as fast as we would have liked” and is holding back completion, he said.

The canal connects the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and is used by as many as 14,000 vessels a year transporting about 5 percent of global trade, according to the authority’s website. It will cut voyage times and costs for bigger ships once the dredging and lock expansion are complete, Quijano said. That will open up new trade routes for energy fuels, agribulks and manufactured goods, he said.

Work by contractors on the lock structures is scheduled to finish late in 2014, with trials starting in April or May the following year, and commercial transits in June, he said. Work on the overall project was 50 percent complete as of last month, with dredging completed for channels in the Atlantic and Pacific entrances and the Culebra Cut, the narrowest point of the transit, Quijano said.

The third set of locks can accommodate ships with beams of 49 meters (160 feet), 16.7 meters wider than the other locks, and with an overall length up to 366 meters. The existing design handles ships up to 294.1 meters long, according to the canal website.

To contact the reporter on this story: Michelle Wiese Bockmann in London at

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Alaric Nightingale at

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