The Panama Canal, long regarded as one of the wonders of the world, just got a little more jaw-dropping. The Panama Canal Authority announced it was extending the maximum length of vessels transiting the locks, from 367.28 meters (1,205 feet) to 370.33 meters (1,215 feet).
While that may not seem like much difference, any change in the Canal’s capabilities is an engineering marvel and only takes place after years of studies. The extension comes only five years after the Canal opened the Neopanamax locks, the massive expansion of the Canal that opened the Canal to the huge Neopanamax ships.
Allowing even slightly longer ships makes the Canal an option for more of the world’s biggest ships, and increases the importance of the locks to international trade. The new extension of the maximum length means 96.8 percent of the world’s fleet of containerships can transit the Canal.
“This change was made possible by our team’s experience operating the Neopanamax Locks safely and reliably over the past five years,” said Panama Canal Administrator Ricaurte Vásquez Morales.
The Canal Authority has been working on this issue for many years, including test transits with larger ships. In 2019 transit, the 369-meter-long (1,210 feet) Triton became the largest vessel in dimension and container cargo capacity to transit the Panama Canal since the new locks opened. Several other ships with similar dimensions, including the Talos and Theseus, have transited the locks, as the Authority tested the safety and mechanics of the operations, according to news reports.
In addition to extending the length, the Canal Authority said it is increasing the draft in the Neopanamax locks to 15.24 meters (50 feet) draft, in part due to the increased rainfall and successful water management at the Gatun Lake.
In addition to announcing the new guidelines, the Canal Authority released data for the first quarter of the year, which showed the economy starting to rebound. In contrast to the same quarter of 2020, when the COVID-19 pandemic started, port cargo volumes rose 8.8 percent, the Authority said.