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Thousands celebrate opening of multi-billion-dollar expansion of Panama Canal

The Panama Canal celebrated the long-anticipated opening of its expansion last month in front of thousands of onlookers. The facility's $7.45 billion expansion was marked with the sailing of the COSCO Shipping Panama which was first to make the first journey along the improved 80km-long canal starting. The ship started at the Agua Clara Locks on the Atlantic side of the Panama, and made its way through the Cocoli Locks on the Pacific side onto its destination in Asia.

Thousands celebrate opening of multi-billion-dollar expansion of Panama Canal

Last month, the Panama Canal finally celebrated the opening of its $7.45 billion expansion, two year later than planned. The occasion was marked with the debut sailing of a huge vessel that made its way along the 80-kilometre-long waterway.

Thousands of locals and holidaymakers, including journalists, canal employees, and heads of states witnessed the first sailing of the COSCO Shipping Panama ship as it started at the Agua Clara Locks on the Atlantic side of the country, where fireworks were set off in celebration. The vessel sailed along the canal to the Cocoli Locks on the Pacific side, and into the Pacific Ocean where it went on to its final destination in Asia.

The expanded facility includes a third shipping lane and new locks that will cater for vessels known as Neopanamax ships. The expansion will double the canal’s cargo capacity, and over the coming years, the $1 billion shipping fees revenue is expected to triple.

Construction on the facility started in 2007, and it was completed two years later than planned and over budget. The canal can now accommodate 98 per cent of ships sailing, from freighters to cruise liners. Speaking to the crowd at the opening, Jorge L. Quijano, the CEO and Administrator of the Panama Canal, said:

"More than 100 years ago, the Panama Canal connected two oceans. Today, we connect the present and the future. It is an honour to announce that what we did it together: providing this great connection to the world. This is the beginning of a new era."

The new locks at both sides of the canal are 70 feet wider and 18 feet deeper than the original ones. The water-savings basins recycle 60 per cent of the water used per transit, resulting in less water being used overall. The Panama Canal was first opened in 1914, and the Ancon was the first ship to officially sail the length of the Panama Canal. Approximately one million vessels have sailed along the waterway since it opened, and solo swimmer, Richard Halliburton, swam its entire length in 1928. Over the years, toll fees have varied in price, from the highest at $375,600, which was paid by the cruise ship Norwegian Pearl in 2010, to the lowest at just 36 cents which was paid by Halliburton.

Princess Cruises will be one of the first cruise liners to sail through the new locks, after it announced a new itinerary for 2017/2018. The Caribbean Princess vessel will offer 10-day cruises along parts of the Panama Canal, starting at the Atlantic entrance.

The expansion of the Panama Canal will open up new opportunities for cruise liners, many of whom have already reserved places at the locks. The canal connects the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, and provides a short cut through Panama, enabling many cruise ships who are heading from destinations in the Caribbean to schedule stops at countries on the Pacific side such as Colombia, Ecuador and Peru, resulting in a huge boost for the cruise industry.

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