Panama Canal Deepening Project Ahead of Schedule

Tuesday, August 26, 2003
Panama Canal Authority project to deepen the navigational channel in Gatun Lake is 40 percent complete - ahead of schedule and within budget. The project's goal is to deepen the channel in the Lake, the large, man-made body of water that all ships navigate when transiting the Canal. Among the many benefits, when complete, the deepening will provide an additional meter of water storage, a 45 percent increase. This would minimize future draft restrictions, enhancing reliability and improving vessel safety, and accommodate future demand for drinking water. The project is anticipated to be done by 2009. Currently, the channel provides an unrestricted draft of 12 meters (39.5 feet), plus 1.5 meters (5 feet) of under keel clearance when Gatun Lake's elevation is 25 meters (81.5 feet). The deepening project would permit the same conditions, but at a lower Lake elevation of 24 meters (78.5 feet). "It's hard to truly comprehend the enormity of this project. For the first time, our three major pieces dredging of equipment are working 24 hours a day, seven days a week to complete this important project. The channel deepening is really going to ensure unparalleled customer service - safe, reliable and efficient transits," said Canal Administrator Alberto Alemán Zubieta. The massive $190 million capital improvement project involves dredging approximately 7.1 million cubic meters from Gatun Lake and the Gaillard Cut channel, and the dredging of the 52 kilometers-long navigational channel from the south end of Gatun Locks to the north end of Pedro Miguel Locks. The project will help to accommodate the anticipated increase in Canal demand because the active water storage volume will rise by nearly 45 percent (from 770 million cubic meters to 1,420 million cubic meters), providing enough water for an additional six transits per day. The ACP is using the recently overhauled drill boat Thor for drilling operations. In addition, the dipper dredge Rialto M. Christensen and cutter suction dredge Mindi are currently at work excavating material around-the-clock. There are plans to augment the equipment used in the dredging by adding a new drill boat and a new cutter suction dredge, both of which should be operational within two to three years.

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