A 984-foot Chinese container ship was greeted with fireworks and cheers from a crowd that had gathered, when it made an inaugural passage through the newly expanded Panama Canal on Sunday, formally launching the Central American nation's multibillion-dollar newly-enlarged Panama Canal.
The country’s president was among the dignitaries present to celebrate the event. The colorful ceremony celebrating the culmination of this $5 billion project has featured dancing flowers, dragons and a marching band.
"This is a great day, a day of national unity and a day for Panama," President Juan Carlos Varela said in a speech. "This is the route that unites the world."
The effort to expand the 102-year-old canal took nearly 10 years and the sweat from 40,000 workers to complete.
The expansion work carried out since 2007 - and finished two years late at a cost of at least $5.5bn - allows a new generation of much larger ships, known as Neopanamax class vessels, to ply the canal.
John Feeley, the U.S. ambassador to Panama, lauded Panama for its "wonder of engineering."
"This is a grand accomplishment for the people of Panama," he said. "This expansion will reconfigure, permanently, the map of the global shipping industry."
By 2021, the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) is hoping the project will bring in $2.1 billion per year in added revenue, representing 2.8 percent of gross domestic product.
However, the party comes amid a lull in global shipping due to the drop in oil prices
, an economic slowdown in China, which is the canal's second-largest customer, and other factors that have hit the waterway's traffic and income.
Already the 102-year-old canal carries five percent of the world’s maritime trade, especially between the US and China, Japan
and South Korea.