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Panama Canal opens $5B locks

Published:Monday | June 27, 2016 | 6:00 AM

Panama Canal opens $5B locks

PANAMA CITY (AP):

Amid exploding fireworks and waving flags, a Chinese ship carrying more than 9,000 containers yesterday entered the newly expanded locks that will double the Panama Canal's capacity in a multibillion-dollar bet on a bright economic future despite tough times for international shipping.

Several tug boats pulled Cosco Shipping Panama into the new locks at Agua Clara under a cloudy sky in Colon province, about 80 kilometres (about 50 miles) north of the capital.

"This is the route that unites the world," said Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela.

"This new transit route is the tip of the iceberg in making Panama once again the logistic centre of the Americas," canal administrator Jorge Luis Quijano said as the ship headed for the Pacific Ocean. "And it represents a significant opportunity for the countries of the region to improve their infrastructure, increase their exports."

Thousands of Panamanians, who began gathering before dawn to witness the inauguration of the canal's expansion, waved the national flag as the band struck up a song.

GREAT ACHIEVEMENT

"It's a one-time experience, a great achievement," said Felicia Penuela, a housewife from Colon province. "Panama is showing the world that even though it is a small country, it can do great things."

Nearly two years late due to construction delays and labour strife, the $5.25 billion project formally launched with the transit of the 158-foot-wide (48.2 metres), 984-foot-long (300 meters), Chinese-owned container ship. It's one of the modern class of mega-vessels that will now be able to use the canal.