Widened Panama Canal set to buoy global trade
A GIANT Chinese-chartered freighter was to nudge its way through the Panama Canal yesterday to mark the completion of nearly a decade of expansion work that is forecast to boost global trade.
The vessel, especially renamed Cosco Shipping Panama, would inaugurate the widened canal in an hours-long voyage from the Atlantic to the Pacific Ocean via a new shipping lane and gigantic locks that had been fitted to the century-old waterway.
The United States - which built the original canal that opened in 1914 - and China are the two most frequent canal users.
Its expansion is expected to greatly benefit commercial traffic between North America and Asia.
The expansion work carried out since 2007 - and delivered two years late at a cost of at least US$5.5 billion (S$7.4 billion) - allows a new generation of much larger ships, known as Neopanamax class vessels, to ply the canal.
Neopanamax freighters can carry up to three times the cargo of older and smaller Panamax ships.
The expansion will allow Panama to attract massive LNG (liquified natural gas) tankers for the first time.
They represent a lucrative segment of the shipping market whose importance has grown with the development of US exports of natural gas from shale, most of which head to Japan and South Korea.