December 9, 2012

The big shipping news

The expansion of the Panama Canal has U.S. ports readying deeper channels and businesses gearing up to ship goods more cheaply.

By MIMI WHITEFIELD McClatchy Newspapers

(Continued from page 2)

Panama Canal
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The freighter America Express enters locks in the Panama Canal as another freighter exits, at right, at a lower water level. After the expansion is completed, in 2015 or later, the canal will be able to accommodate the larger ships that are revolutionizing international trade.

Carl Juste/Miami Herald

Panama Canal
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Construction of the bigger locks in the Panama Canal is a round-the-clock operation employing 13,000 people.

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Workers had to blast through the rock of Culebra Cut and tens of thousands of laborers -- most from Barbados and other Caribbean islands -- succumbed to malaria, yellow fever, precarious living conditions and the perils of carrying boxes of unstable dynamite during the failed French attempt at building the canal and the Americans' later engineering success.

Since the expansion began, there have been four deaths.

This time around, there's a lot more equipment and far fewer people involved and more water-saving features are built into the design, said Ilya Espino de Marotta, engineering and programs management executive vice president for the expansion.

The canal authority had hoped all work on the expansion, including six months of testing of the new locks, would be done by October 2014, the 100th anniversary of the canal opening. But the consortium building the $3.2 billion locks says a 2015 delivery date is more likely, de Marotta said.

Now, the onus is on the consortium building the locks, which is led by companies from Belgium and Spain. Each day the project is late will result in a $300,000 penalty for the consortium with a cap of $54 million.

The good news is that the expansion, which has involved 228 contractors to date, is still on budget.


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Additional Photos

Panama Canal
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A small cross marks the burial site of a worker who was part of the original construction of the Panama Canal by the French.


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