Although Panama’s centenary, celebrating 100 years as an independent republic, is in 2003, you could say that the country really came of age three years earlier–when the Panama Canal was handed over to the Panamanians. This was the event which defined the nation’s century.
A profound transformation had been underway during the years that preceded the formal transfer and Panama’s Canal began its operations as a different organization, renovated, entirely Panamanian and run by an autonomous entity, the Panama Canal Authority (ACP), successor to the former Panama Canal Commission created in 1979 as a binational U.S. -Panama hybrid organization enabled by a treaty between the U.S. and Panama. Radical changes, although imperceptible to Canal users, have taken place at every level of the Panama Canal. The most important was the addition of a new title in Panama’s Constitution ( May 25, 1995) about the Panama Canal that guarantees independence of its administration, creates the Panama Canal Authority and its board of directors, and the organic law passed in 1997 (Law 19 of June 11, 1997) that organizes the ACP administration. The eleven-member board of directors is appointed by the President for fixed terms of nine years while the Administrator is chosen by the board and named for seven years.
The ACP board chairman is also designated by the President, is of cabinet-level rank and holds the title of Minister of Canal Affairs. The Canal should be kept out of domestic politics and free from partisan politics, observing a merit system for employment and bidding process for all business contracts. In addition to the ACP board, an Advisory Board was established and comprises a group of experts in the maritime and business world who will offer their advice and support to the board to ensure the successful operation of the Canal.
The Canal as a corporation
From its inauguration in 1914 under the Panama Canal Company and later under the Panama Canal Commission, the waterway had been managed as a U.S. federal agency under the Department of Defense and, by law, had a break-even budget. For nearly 70 years, the Panama Canal Company was generous and subsidized most of the costs of the former Canal Zone which was in effect a "company town" in addition to the canal’s.
The new Panama Canal Authority has a clear mandate to run the waterway as a modern, profitable business.
The waterway Panama received came with a clear financial bill of health and "without liabilities" as written in the treaty, a unique situation in the modern business world. The Panama Canal Authority benefits from permanent cash flow and good financial records. ACP Administrator, Alberto Aleman Zubieta, says it is a solid business operation which needs to eliminate bureaucratic processes established over 85 years, use its resources more efficiently and give greater attention to its customers to make it the best example of business in the region.
Watershed protection key issue for future
Panama defined a protected canal watershed by law to assure the shipping route has plenty of water since prudent water management is needed to avoid draft restrictions such as those implemented during the dramatic El Nino droughts; additional water resources will be needed for any further expansion that would include the building additional locks. However, the plan is already controversial. The issue has attracted the attention of shippers, watershed residents and Canal officials but "water management is definitely the Canal’s first goal", says Administrator Alberto Aleman. Any plan that is adopted will not only increase water reserves but provide better deterrent against deforestation and the resulting erosion.
Each vessel transiting the Canal uses 52 million gallons of fresh water to pass through the three locks that allow passage through the Canal. With an average of 36 ships transiting every day, 1.872 billion gallons of water flow out to sea each day. While the water supply is constantly replenished through abundant Panamanian rainfall, in the dry season depletion of water reserves can cause the level of Gatun Lake to fall to levels that affect Canal operations. Any plans to increase traffic or to build a third lane through the Canal to accommodate post-Panamax (Panamax is the designation for vessels of maximum width to pass through the lock chambers) vessels will put an even greater strain on the Canal’s water resources and for more than two years the Canal administration has been looking for alternate fresh water sources.
A new law passed in August 1999 by Panama’s National Assembly contemplates doubling the water resources for canal operations and future expansion by legally defining the Canal watershed area. The Canal watershed reserve which comprises the artificial Madden and Gatun lakes also provides more than 95% of the drinking water for the cities of Colón, Panama and the district of Arraijan. In addition a water plant under construction by UK-based BiWater will also use water from the lakes to service the capital's expanding suburbs.
The law that defined the watershed established a total area of 1,365,320 acres or 7% of the national territory within that protected space. The watershed will have the potential to supply about six times the active storage and double the land resources available for the canal today. The area comprises land around four rivers that could be dammed or diverted. Studies for the watershed development plan will have to resolve crucial environmental and social problems as they move forward.
The plan will be an opportunity to make the area a model of sustainable development with better standard of living for the families that live there. Environmental groups and non-governmental organizations will likely be asked to participate in drawing up the plan but experts say the plan will be positive for nature conservation, slowing deforestation, a major problem for canal operations during the 1980s when it raised silt levels in Gatun and Madden lakes.
The Canal watershed includes some tracts of land still covered with dense forest, in part because it was within the US-controlled Canal Zone. Other areas have not enjoyed such strict protection despite government controls, excellent on paper but virtually ineffectual in the field.
The idea of a canal that could shorten the journey between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans goes back to 1524 when King Carlos I of Spain ordered the first topographic studies for the construction of a waterway between the two oceans.
However, it was not until the 19th century when the great powers of the day, France, England and the United States, began to seriously consider the matter. Expeditions were mounted in the province of Darién and in the Atrato region of Colombia which seemed to offer the best possibilities. In 1826, then-U.S. Secretary of State, Henry Clay, suggested to Congress the construction of a path "for navigation purposes" somewhere across the Isthmus.
In 1835, the U.S. Senate urged the president to initiate conversations with the governments of Central America and Nueva Granada (the northern Andean region) about a treaty that would protect companies interested in building a waterway to eliminate the Cape Horn route.
The construction of a transisthmian railroad in Panama in 1855 demonstrated the necessity to proceed with this monumental feat. In 1878, the French obtained a concession from the Colombian government and created the Compagnie Universelle du Canal Interoceanique, under the direction of Ferdinand de Lesseps, builder of the Suez Canal. De Lesseps wanted a sea-level channel, but the rock formations of the Continental Divide and the tropical diseases, combined with financial problems, transformed the great adventure into a nightmare. Another adverse factor was the scope of the excavations through the continental mountain range. The excavations stopped, but De Lesseps' perseverance got work started again in 1894, only to be abandoned later after an enormous financial scandal in Paris that left the only option in the hands of the North Americans.
In 1903, since the Colombian government had not reached a satisfactory agreement with the U.S. on the Herrán-Hay Canal Treaties, Washington's government backed the aspirations of Panamanian nationalists, and the then Colombian province of Panama declared its independence on November 3 of that year. Several days later, the leaders of the new republic signed a treaty with the United States for the construction of a waterway through the Isthmus. In 1904, the U.S. purchased all the rights and properties of Compagnie Nouvelle du Canal de Panama (the French company which had replaced Compagnie Universelle du Canal Interoceanique) for $40 million and began a task that would last 10 years and cost $387 million. The construction also claimed the lives of some 20,000 workers who perished from yellow fever and malaria.
More than 30,000 workers from the Caribbean islands of Jamaica, Martinique, Barbados and other parts of the world participated in the construction. Many of them remained on the Isthmus and settled around the ports of Cristóbal and Balboa —the maritime facilities at both entrances of the Canal— and continued to work for the Canal Company, the railroad, and within the Canal Zone, under U.S. management.
The "eighth wonder of the world", as many call the Canal, was inaugurated on August 15, 1914, and the steamer, "Ancon" was the first ship to make a complete ocean-to-ocean transit.
Since then, and until 1977, relations between the two countries were often stormy. The 1903 Treaty granted the United States government a strip of land at both sides of the Canal over which the U.S. exercised sovereignty and jurisdiction "in perpetuity". What was known as the Panama Canal Zone was a colonial enclave within Panamanian territory, and became the main source of conflict between the two nations.
The 1903 Hay-Buneau Varilla Treaty underwent a number of modifications, none of which brought major consequences. Due to violent riots on January 9, 1964, Panama broke relations with the U.S. The relationship resumed when both governments agreed to review the treaty. In October, 1968, a military coup brought the National Guard to power in Panama led by General Omar Torrijos, who directed a nationalist movement resulting in two new treaties, signed by both countries on September 7, 1977. The treaties were ratified in Panama through a referendum and by the vote of the United States Senate. The new agreements went into effect on October 1, 1979.
The Torrijos-Carter Treaties
The signing of the Torrijos-Carter Treaties (one known as the Panama Canal Treaty and the other as the Permanent Neutrality and Operation of the Panama Canal Treaty) began a new relationship between the two countries and established the gradual transfer of the Canal to the Republic of Panama. The perpetuity clause was eliminated as well as the Canal Zone concept. Jurisdiction of the strip of land was handed over to Panama. The U.S. government agreed to return the Canal and its administration to Panama by midday, December 31, 1999. Until then, the Canal would remain under U.S. control with a new body, the Panama Canal Comission responsible for implementing the treaty.
The first Panamanian administrator nominated by the Panamanian government and appointed by the President of the United States in accordance to the 1977 Canal Treaty, was an engineer, Gilberto Guardia Fábrega, who was inaugurated in September of 1990.
Guardia, who presented his resignation in 1996, was preceded by acting Administrator Fernando Manfredo, who took over the post on January 1st, 1990 after serving as Deputy Administrator between October, 1979 and December, 1989. After Guardia's resignation, President Ernesto Pérez Balladares designated a new Administrator, Alberto Alemán Zubieta, who was sworn in on August 18, 1996.
Alemán Zubieta was designated Administrator of the newly-created Panama Canal Authority in 1998 by the entity's Board of Directors. This enabled him to continue in his position after all Canal assets were transferred to Panama on December 31, 1999.
The following were the members of the first Board of Directors of the Panama Canal Authority: Ricardo Martinelli, president (also Panama's Minister of Canal Affairs); Emanuel González Revilla, Fernando Cardoze Fábrega, Eloy Alfaro, Moisés Mizrachi, Samuel Lewis Navarro, Adolfo Ahumada, Roberto Roy, Abel Rodríguez, Luis Anderson and Raúl Montenegro, Jr.
By the time the Canal was transferred, Panama was fully prepared to assume its great responsibility. By the end of December, 1999, nearly all personnel responsible for operating the waterway was Panamanian.
The members of the Board of the Panama Canal Authority are appointed by various authorities for different terms, stated as follows. One member is designated by the President of the Republic, having also the rank of a Minister for Canal Affairs, while another is designated by the Legislative Assembly. The rest are nominated by the President and ratified by the Legislative Assembly. To avoid all designations by a single president, three board members are appointed to three-year terms in the initial assignment, whereas another three serve six-year periods, and the remaining three, nine-year terms. Once their respective initial terms have expired chosen members will serve a nine-year term.
The Board of Directors is also responsible for appointing ACP's Administrator and Deputy Administrator. A number of the Board's duties are similar to those of the former Panama Canal Commission's directives in regard to the establishment of tolls; the establishment of a tonnage system for ships transiting the Canal; the approval of the budget submitted to the vote of the Cabinet and the Legislative Assembly, and the approval of the regulations necessary for the operation and modernization of the Canal.
In addition to this, the organic law of the ACP stipulates that the annual payment of the institution to the national treasury will be no less than the amount Panama received under the Canal's U.S. administration until December 31, 1999. These payments were approximately US$120 million. Another important regulation established by the Constitution and the organic law of the ACP states that Canal employees will be governed by a special employment standard and a merit system similar to that of the former U.S. administration, which guarantees the same conditions and labor benefits enjoyed until 1999.
The Issue of the Third Set of Locks
The Canal's managers and planners face an enormous challenge....the need to expand the waterway to accommodate the larger ships –post Panamax in canal terminology —which are now being built. The prospect is to build a third chamber, wider, longer and deeper alongside the two-chamber existing locks.
"It is not just engineering but a business project" says deputy administrator and project manager Ricaurte Vasquez. Canal authorities will have to look at timing, cost, demand and supply and whether there is enough volume to support the likely US$3BN-5BN cost expansion.
This third set of locks would require additional water supplies. The concept designs will be for locks of 60 meters width by 425 meters length and by 18.3 meters of clearance, compared with the existing 33.5 x 300 x 12.5 meters locks that allow only the passage of container ships up to 4.5000 Teu.
Each vessel transiting the Canal requires approximately 197 million liters of fresh water ultimately flushed into the sea but a post-Panamax ship would need between 2.3 and 7.7 times that quantity. But the engineers are working on water savings systems which could limit the need for extra water to only 1 to 1.5 times.
The Canal Board must assess the results of some 200 investigations and are being assisted by the consortium, Parsons Brinkerhoff International of New York, and Chicago-based Montgomery Watson-Harza. The French-Belgium consortium of Tractebel Development Engineering, Coyne-et-Bellier, Technum N. V. and Companie Nationale du Rhone are developing the conceptual design for one-and three-lift locks on the Pacific side while the U.S.Army Corps of Engineers will do the same on the two-three-lift locks on the Atlantic side.
Four marketing studies-awarded to Louis Berger with the National Ports and Waterways Institute; Nathan & Associates with Richardson Lawrie Associates; and to Fearnley; will address future performance of the liner industry and of some significant segments of the cargo transiting the waterway such as dry bulk which includes grains, mineral and coal; liquid bulk for crude oil and chemicals; and the bunkering business. Another study will concentrate on the international economic impact of the construction of a third set of locks and economic value of the canal for international trade.
As an example of Panama's responsible and efficient administration of the Canal, the Panamanian government renounced its right to receive payment from the surplus registered at the end of the first fiscal year. This sum was re-invested in the widening works at Culebra Cut. Culebra Cut is also known as Gaillard Cut in honor of Colonel David DuBose Gaillard, the official in charge of the excavation of the passage during the construction of the Panama Canal. This section was excavated through the rocky mountains of the Continental Divide —a task that claimed many lives. It is the narrowest point of the waterway. The Cut was originally 300 feet wide, but it was later widened to 500 feet in 1969. Culebra Cut now has a minimum width of 630 feet along straight ways, and up to 730 feet around curves. The total investment amounted to approximately US$300 million.
As part of the modernization program, the Authority is gradually expanding its tug boat fleet, and the number of locomotives at the locks.
The equipment currently being acquired to improve transit operations is especially designed to manage the growing number of large ships that transit the Canal daily.
While the Canal undergoes a modernization and improvement process that will increase its transit capacity by 20% (enough to satisfy the waterway's demands until 2012), the Canal Capacity Studies Department is constantly examining the options to increase its capacity even more. One of the options being studied was a recommendation made in 1993 by the Tripartite Alternatives Commission for the Panama Canal (formed by Panama, the United States and Japan), to build a third set of locks for ships up to 150,000 tons. The department is also studying additional sources of water, water saving alternatives and available technologies for the transit of small ships without the need for water.
A study prepared by the Institute of Ports and Waterways of the United States revealed that, providing the third set of locks becomes a reality, the Panama Canal would become a world-class service center by the year 2020. If the Panamanian government makes the decision to build a new set of locks, a number of new dams will be necessary to meet the future water supply needs for the Canal and the metropolitan area of Panama City.
Operations of the Waterway
On October 1st, 1994, the Panama Canal Commission modified its tonnage system in order to adopt the universal formula of the International Tonnage Convention, approved in 1969. The chosen formula, known as the Universal Tonnage System Panama Canal (UTS/PC), did not change the toll system applied to Canal customers. In order to calculate the toll rate of a ship in ballast or with cargo, a Panama Canal Ton equals a real income capacity of one hundred cubic feet. In July, 1997, the Canal agency started to charge fees on containers on deck —a decision approved by the Board of Directors. Until then, the Panama Canal did not charge cargo on deck.
A new toll structure was implemented October 1st, 2002 with an increase of 8%, followed by a second phase and increase of 4.5% in July 2003. At the same time, the ACP also decided to change its pricing structure from a one-size-fits-all, in place since the opening of the waterway in 1914, to seven separate categories for container, passenger, general cargo, dry bulk, liquid bulk, reefer and car carrier vessels.
In addition, there is a discount structure with a higher rate for the first 10,000 PC/UMS tones, another rate for the following 10,000 PC/UMS with the lowest rate for the remaining tonnage. Based on the new tolls pricing structure, if larger ships use the Canal, then the average toll increase is actually lower.
The toll increase was approved by the board of directors and ratified by the Cabinet after the Panama Canal Authority consulted its customers during a public hearing in Panama, in July 2002. The tolls were last raised in 1996. That was a two-phase increase of 8.2% in 1997 and 7.5% in 1998.
The present toll rate is $2.80 per ton for laden and $2.22 for ballast, for the first 10,000 tons PC/UMS, and $2.78 per ton for laden and $2.21 for ballast for the following 10,000 tons PC/UMS. For the remaining tons, the rate is $2.75 for laden and $2.18 for ballast.
On July 1, 2003, the second phase will raise the rate to $2.96 per ton laden and $2.35 for ballast for the first 10,000 tons PC/UMS. It will decrease to $2.90 for laden and $2.30 for ballast for the following 10,000 tons PC/UMS and the remaining tons will be charged $2.85 laden and $2.26 in ballast.
The new tariff system aims at attracting more traffic for the canal. It is what "our customers want" said Panama Canal Authority administrator Alberto Aleman Zubieta. It reflects "a change of philosophy" and the first step towards charging clients for the value they receive from the Canal.
The Authority, which had frozen toll charges since 1998, also announced a new fee to use locomotives during ship transits in canal locks on top of special fees already charged to use tug boats and line handlers. The charge will help recoup the ACP's $300M investment in new locomotives and tracks. The ACP had also imposed a new security fee from June 1, 2002 on all vessels transiting the canal to cover significant investments to expand vessel monitoring and tracking and protect its operations. A flat fee of $400 is charged for vessels over 3,000 Panama Canal Universal Measurement System (PC/UMS) and $50 for vessels below this tonnage.
Some four percent of world trade passes through the 80-km Panama Canal, moving cargo from the Far East to the coasts of the United Sates and to Europe and vice versa, saving some 4,800 kilometers compared with rounding Cape Horn. The waterway has also recently become an increasingly important passage for exports of goods and commodities from South America to the U.S., Europe and the Far East.
In its ongoing efforts to satisfy the demands of the maritime industry, the Panama Canal Authority’s new corporate mission is market-driven and customer-oriented. That is the reason why several members of the international shipping community sit on the Panama Canal advisory board where their experience, recommendations and permanent advice are of extreme value to the Panama Canal Authority officials. The recent reorganisation of the department of corporate planning and marketing brought about the creation of a new strategic services division and the consolidation of a marketing division to get a better understanding of the market and customers’ needs. The new marketing division now includes the office of customer relations, pricing and tolls, dry bulks, liquid bulks, liner services, other specialized services and new business development.
The main users of the Panama Canal in 1999 were: the United States, with a total of 135.3 million metric tons (59.7% of the total); Japan, with 40.6 million tons (18%); mainland China (18.5 million tons, 8.2%); Canada (16.5 million, 7.3); Chile (15.5 million, 6.8%); South Korea (14.9 million, 6.6%); Peru (11 million, 4.8%); Taiwan (11 million, 4.8%); Venezuela (10.4 million, 4.6%); Mexico (10.2 million, 4.5%); Ecuador (9.5 million, 4.2%); Panama (6.9 million, 3%); Colombia (6.7 million, 2.9%)' Belgium (5.2 million, 2.3%), and Australia (4.6 million, 2%).
Some of the Canal’s main customers are shipping lines that have been transiting the canal for decades. Many companies may have changed names after mergers or global purchases but several of them can recall the first vessel of their companies transiting the waterway in its early years. In fiscal year 2002, the Canal’s main customers are the following : Mitsui. O.S.K, Maersk, Nippon Yusen Kaisha (NYK Line), Kawasaki Kisen (K Line), CSAV (Compania Suramericana de Vapores), COSCO, Hyundai Merchant Marine, Evergreen, Pan Ocean Shipping, Hanjin Shipping Co.
An interesting historic note: A total of 1,058 ships transited the Canal during its first year of operations, and total fees amounted to 4.4 million dollars (1914-1915). During the Canal's last year under U.S. administration (1999), 13,003 large-draught vessels transited the waterway, paying a total of U.S.$565.5 millions.
The Panama Canal measures 50 miles in length, extending from the deep waters of the Atlantic, to deep waters of the Pacific. It was excavated through one of the narrowest and least mountainous regions of the Isthmus of Panama, which links North and South America. The point where the Canal meets the Continental Divide originally measured 328 feet above sea level. The waterway runs northeast to southwest, The flying distance between both entrances is 43.2 miles.
The average ship takes between 8-10 hours to transit the Canal. During this short journey, passengers have the opportunity to observe one of the marvels of the world in operation. Its main features are: a terminal port on the Pacific (Balboa) and four maritime facilities on the Atlantic (Cristóbal, Manzanillo, Colón Container Terminal and Colón Port Terminal); three sets of locks (Gatún, Pedro Miguel and Miraflores); Gatún Lake and Gaillard Cut.
A ship transiting the Canal from the Atlantic to the Pacific enters the channel at the Bay of Limón, after passing through the breakwaters of Cristóbal. This sea-level stretch measures approximately 6.2 miles in length and passes through an area of mangrove. Vessels ascend or descend up to 86 feet through the three chambers of Gatún Locks. Each chamber measures 1000 feet long by 110 feet wide. The length of Gatún Locks, starting at the access walls, is almost 1.25 miles.
Gatún Lake and Dam
Ships navigate some 27 miles on Gatún Lake, which extends from Gatún Locks to the northern end of Gaillard Cut. During the construction era, it was the largest man-made lake on the planet, and its still among the world's greatest. It covers an area of 42,500 hectares (425 square kilometers) and was created by damming the waters of the Chagres River, located beside Gatún Locks. The two sections of the dam and the spillway have a total length of approximately 7,800 feet. The damn measures almost 2,624 feet wide at the base, and gradually becomes narrower toward the top, where its 100 feet wide. It is 105 feet above sea level and 19.7 feet over Gatún Lake's level.
In March 2002, the Presidents of Panama and Brazil jointly launched the seven year US$190M deepening of the Panama Canal navigational channel. The project, first major improvement since the transfer of the waterway to Panama, will be done "in house" including the design phase and will provide an additional one meter of water storage in Gatun Lake. It will require considerable drilling, blasting and excavation of material. With the Canal expansion feasibility studies to conclude in 2003, several dredging projects are being evaluated to determine their feasibility.
Gaillard Cut has a special appeal to the passengers of the more than 300 cruise ships that transit the Panama Canal each year, due to its history, its extraordinary geology and the fact that it bisects the Continental Divide. It was known as Culebra (snake) Cut during the construction days of the Canal because of its sinuous extension, but it was later named Gaillard Cut to honor Colonel David DuBose Gaillard, the chief engineer in charge of its construction. The Canal's main excavation work took place there, as well as the devastating land slides that occurred during the construction, and shortly after the waterway's official opening.
A southbound vessel (toward the Pacific) enters the Cut where the Chagres River meets the Canal, in Gamboa. More than any other section of the waterway, Gaillard Cut gives passengers the sense of being in a gigantic ditch. Shortly before the ship enters the Pedro Miguel Locks, it passes beside Gold Hill, located on the eastern bank of the Canal. The hill towers 539 feet above sea level, but its height has been substantially reduced due to the widening works on the Canal. Contractor's Hill, on the opposite bank, originally measured a little over 410 feet, but was reduced to 370 feet in 1954 in order to stabilize it. The hill will be further leveled with the current widening works.
The original width of the Canal was 300 feet.. During the 1930's and 1940's, the straightway located immediately to the north of Gold Hill was widened to 500 feet to improve navigation for large ships in the straight. Between 1957 and 1971, the Cut was widened to 500 feet.
After the Cut, ships enter Pedro Miguel Locks, on the southern end of Culebra Cut, where they descend —26 feet in a single step— to the level of Miraflores Lake, which separates both sets of locks. The ship descends two more steps (54 feet) to reach sea level at Miraflores Locks, which measure approximately 5,248 feet (1.600 meters) in length. The Miraflores Locks are the tallest of the entire system due to the great tide variations of the Pacific.
Completed a year ahead of schedule in November 2001, the Culebra Cut Widening Program increased the Panama Canal's operating capacity by 20 percent, it also enables the simultaneous transit of two Panamax-type vessels and a more flexible traffic scheduling of vessels in the waterway. In a simple ceremony attended by former Canal administrators, Fernando Manfredo and Gilberto Guardia, Administrator Alberto Alemán Zubieta conceded to Gilberto Guardia the honor of operating the dredge Christensen for the final shovelful, at the precise historical site which had constituted the greatest challenge for the construction workers of the waterway.
On July 4th, the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) had wrapped up the drilling and blasting portion of the Cut's widening program. On August 16, the last shovelful of the land-based wet excavation project was accomplished by excavator LIEBHERR. A total of 23.2 million cubic meters of dry material and 12 million cubic meters of wet material were removed.
The completion of the project widens the narrowest passage of the Panama Canal from 152 meters to 192 meters along straight stretches and up to 222 meters on curves. Originally scheduled to be concluded in 2012, the Culebra Cut project was sped up by more than 10 years, in order to meet increasing traffic demands. Widening Culebra Cut was part of the Canal's $1-billion modernization and improvement program. Under $300 million were invested in this project, originally estimated to cost more than $600 million. During the Canal's construction, the Culebra Cut was the portion which required the greatest volume of excavation and it has been the site where the biggest landslides have occurred throughout its history. This part of the navigational channel is approximately 12.5 kilometers long, and here mostly rock and slate were excavated during the waterway's construction.
Legal Maximum Dimension (for regular transits)
Beam: 106 feet; Length: 965 feet (depending on the type of ship); Maximum draft: 39.5 feet Main products (percentage of total tonnage)
In Fiscal year 2002, the main products ( in millions of Long tons) transported through the Panama Canal were: oil (7,508 m), oil products (18,538m), grains (37,703m ) coal (5,720m), containerized cargo (39,520m), vehicles (2,384m), refrigerated products (8,441m), nitrates, phosphates and potash (10,232m), lumber and products (5,411m), mineral and miscellaneous (9,139m),chemicals and chemical products (9,288m) and others (33,947m). Distances from the Canal (nautical miles)
Guayaquil: 824; Hong Kong: 9,195; New Orleans: 1,444; New York: 2,018; Rotterdam: 4,842; San Francisco: 3,245; Yokohama: 7,682