Daily Archives: May 4, 2014

One Hundred and Ten Years Ago Today

The United States began construction of the Panama Canal, one of the seven wonders of the modern world.

The Panama Canal, completed 100 years ago this August, is a 77.1 kilometre ship canal in Panama that cuts across the Isthmus of Panama and connects the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific Ocean. It has 3 locks at each end to lift ships up to Gatun Lake, which is an artificial lake created to reduce the amount of excavation work for the canal that sits 26 meters above sea level. (The current locks are 33.5 meters wide, but a wider lane of 55 m locks is under construction as part of an expansion project that is scheduled to complete next year. More information is in the 2012 Progress Report).

One of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken, the shortcut considerably redoes the amount of time taken for ships to travel between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, which up until then had to take the lengthy, hazardous Cape Horn route around the southernmost tip of South America via the Drake Passage or the Strait of Magellan. A ship can traverse the canal in 20 to 30 hours vs the 20+ days it would take to sail the thousands of kilometres to go around the Cape. (For example, ships sailing from New York to San Francisco save nearly 13,000 kilometers going through the Canal. This saves an average slow-steamer cargo ship 20 days of sailing time!)

The Canal was managed by the US until the 1977 Torrijos–Carter Treaties provided for handover to Panama. From 1977 to 1999, the canal was jointly controlled by the American and Panamanian governments, until the canal was taken over entirely by the Panamanian government in 1999.

The amount of traffic that flows through the Panama Canal on an annual basis is staggering. When it first opened in 1914, about 1,000 ships went through the Canal a year. In 2011, total traffic reach 14,685 ships that generated $1,730,052,192 in tolls on 222,358,944 long tons of cargo with a net tonnage of 321,845,065! (Original table no longer available, updated transit statistics available at this Source)

It’s not only a modern wonder, it’s a major empowerment to the ocean trade that your global supply chains are so reliant on!