A post-panamax bulk carrier became the first ship to pass through the Panama Canal’s new locks on Thursday, kicking off a series of trial runs ahead of the expanded canal’s grand opening later this month.
The $5.3 billion expansion project involves the construction of a new set of locks on both the Atlantic and Pacific sides and multiple dredging projects to create a second lane of traffic along the canal. The new locks are much wider and deeper than the current locks.
The first run was meant to simulate a southbound transit through the new Agua Clara locks on Atlantic side of the 255-meter-long, 43m wide MV Baroque, which was chartered by the Panama Canal Authority specifically for this purpose.
The trial runs will help Panama Canal workers prepare for the start of commercial operations on June 27 when the first vessels will begin using the new “neopanamax” locks on either ends of the canal. Unlike the existing locks, which use locomotives, the new locks require the use of two tugs positioned forward and aft to guide the ships through.
For that reason, Panama Canal pilots and tugboat captains have been required to go through extensive training at the canal’s own simulator training center and a nearby scale model facility, but there’s nothing like practicing with the real thing.
Before heading through the new locks, the MV Baroque was boarded by Panama Canal pilots before entering designated canal waters.
Like you will see in this video explaining the operation of the new locks, the MV Baroque was met by two tugs, one forward and one after, before entering the locks.
The lead tug here was the Cerro Santiago, one of many built by the Panama Canal Authority in anticipation of the new locks.
Inauguration of the Third Set of Locks project is scheduled for June 26 with commercial operations scheduled to begin the next day. During the initial stage of operation, only four vessels per day will be allowed to use the new locks to allow workers the chance to get used to the new operation.