Information About The Panama Canal: World’s Most Expensive Waterway

The time is 1903, a rainy day on the Panama Canal under construction. In a country where it rains 80 percent of the year, while working on such a wet rocky mountain, a worker will suddenly slip and appear at the door of death, is it unknown to the authorities?

Between then and 1914, another 5,600 people died from accidents, malaria, and cholera. The figure of 5,600 people in the government accounts may be higher in reality.

This 80 km long artificial waterway connecting the Pacific and Atlantic oceans is truly a wonder! But how does this nineteenth-century establishment keep pace with twenty-first-century changes? Let’s know a little about it.

After the success of the French in the Suez Canal project in 1869, America began to think of an alternative waterway to bridge the distance between North America and Europe, Asia and South America.

Before the construction of the Panama Canal, to reach from Europe to the west coast of North America or from Asia to the south of North America had to cross the entire coast of South America.

It would have taken an additional 14 days to reach the destination and another twelve and a half thousand kilometers of waterway had to be crossed.

Panama and its neighboring country Nicaragua; Both countries could reduce this extra distance for ships plying the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

But the effects of the numerous active volcanoes in Nicaragua and the unsuccessful attempts of the French to dig a canal during that time in Panama were the main reasons for American engineers to complete the work in Panama.

In 1903, the then American President Roosevelt bought the under-construction canal project from the French for about 40 million US dollars.

Thus began the digging of the Panama Canal lasting more than a century. But in 1903 Panama was a part of Colombia.

At the beginning of the Panama Canal project, the United States wanted to sign the Hay-Herran Treaty with Columbia, which would establish American rights to the Panama Canal and adjacent areas.

But at that time Panama was also trying to gain independence from Colombia.

It was then that Panama gained bloodless independence from Colombia with the direct assistance of the United States, and in return the Americans were given full control of the Panama Canal.

Later, in 1977, through the signing of the Torrejios-Carter Agreement, America returned the responsibility of the canal to Panama in 1999.

In the 18th century, the French built the Suez Canal connecting Asia and Europe from Port Said on the Red Sea to the Mediterranean, but it was the French who started the Panama Canal project before the Americans.

But the land of the friend of Panama and plain Egypt are quite different from each other in geographical features. That is why it was a big mistake of the French engineers to design the Panama Canal on the model of the Suez Canal.

After taking over from the French, the Americans realized that the process of building a canal in the mountainous nature of Panama would be very complex and challenging.

So the successful construction of the waterway in this nature of a friend to the emerging American hegemony in the world at that time was of great importance and glory.

It is estimated that the construction of the Panama Canal required approximately 444 percent more money than the American administration originally budgeted to successfully complete the project.

Now we will talk about the main obstacles to the construction of the Panama Canal. At the beginning of the article, it is mentioned about the death risk of construction workers.

In addition to Panama’s rainy and humid climate, the landslide-expensive construction style discouraged French engineers from the start.

According to the geographical design of the Panama Canal, its location is supposed to be in the mountainous region. As a result, if the canal was made by cutting the mountains, it was necessary that the water level of the canal should be equal to the water level of the sea level. Because water always flows from high places to low places.

Therefore, if the canal is high, there will be no water in it and the ship will not be able to move. That’s why the French decided to cut the mountains at once and make plains.

But as the surrounding topography and rainfall are the main areas in such a design, if the canal were to be built on a level with the sea, then the surrounding soil would have collapsed from the hills and the canal would have been filled.

In that case, the canal had to be dug again. After only a few years of construction, they found such major design flaws that they basically sold the project to the Americans.

But instead of cutting mountains and creating plains, America devised ways to lift ships up mountains, which required the construction of another major project—Gatun Lake, once the world’s largest artificial lake.

So according to American design, ships entering the Panama Canal first enter a series of artificially enclosed bodies of water called ‘locks’.

Through this, the ships will be lifted up to 26 meters above the sea level up to the Gatun lake and after passing through this lake, the ships will go down into the sea after crossing some locks.

A ship from the Atlantic entering the Pacific through the Panama Canal must first pass through three locks.

These locks have two doors on either side and the floor has a controlled flow of water from the upper side lock to the lower lock.

When a ship approaches the seaward side of the first lock, water from the second lock fills the first lock, so that the water in the first lock and the sea water level are equal.

Then, when the seaward door is opened, the ship enters the first lock, then more water from the second lock is introduced into the first lock, so that the water in the first and second locks is at the same height and the ship floats up to the height of the second lock.

Then the second lock door was opened and the ship entered it. This is how the ship reaches the 26 meter high Gatun Lake.

At the time of construction, the distance between the two doors of each lock was about 320 meters and the width of the locks was about 33.53 meters.

The locks can hold about 26.7 million gallons of water and take about 8 to 10 minutes to fill. As mentioned earlier, the height of Gatun Lake is 26 meters above sea level.

The Shagre River is one of the sources of water for the Panama Canal. The lake is created by two dams on this river. Ships have to cross a distance of about 33 km here to reach the Pedro Miguel Lock towards the Pacific Ocean.

7.2 billion cubic feet of rock and earth were excavated during the creation of this lake, which was about three times the volume of Suez. These were later dumped in the coastal areas, where army camps are now built.

It takes about 8-10 hours for a ship to enter the Pacific Ocean through the Panama Canal from the Atlantic.

To cross such a long and mechanized waterway, ships have to pay high tolls. It is said that the toll rate of the Panama Canal is the highest compared to all other waterways in the world.

That is why it is called the most expensive waterway. More than 14,000 ships pass through this 80-meter-long waterway annually.

But this 19th century canal has had to undergo several changes to keep it usable and competitive in the 21st century.

Because of this lock system of the Panama Canal, if the ship is bigger than the size of the locks, it cannot enter through the Panama Canal.

On the other hand, shipowners will incur losses if the capacity of the vessels is not large enough despite the high duty paid by Panama. That is why in 2016 these locks were changed and made bigger.

Now in 2020, if a ship wants to enter through Panama, they can be a maximum of 366 meters long and 51 meters wide. Another major problem in Panama is that ships are floated with excess water.

As a result, if the weight of the ships becomes too much, even if water is given according to the capacity of the locks, the ships will not float up to the desired height.

For this reason, in 2016, the depth of the locks was also slightly increased. Where earlier the maximum weight of ships operating was 5,000 TEU, now the maximum weight has been increased to 15,000 TEU.

And as a result of this expansion of the Panama Canal, ships are now being built on a larger scale, which are called Neo Panamax ships.

But Panama Canal expansion has a butterfly effect. Because the capacity of the canal is high, large ships will pass through here.

That is why the capacity of the port of the country where the big ships will visit the port must be suitable for the ships. For this reason, the countries using the waterways had to build deep seaports and make the rivers deeper.

Still, the century-old canal’s high tolls and restrictions on ship size and weight are making Nicaragua politically motivated to build an alternative waterway.

Several years ago, some Chinese multinationals were also seen grappling with the issue. But alternative waterways require a lot of money, diplomatic efforts and the right engineering style.

However, as long as these things are not coordinated together, the Panama Canal will remain a bridge between Asia-Europe and North America and South America.