Pacific Maritime Magazine - Marine Business for the Operations Sector

By Jim Shaw 

Canals in the News

 

Jan De Nul

Jan De Nul's 140.7-meter by 27.8-meter dredge J.F.J. De Nul, the largest cutter dredge in the world, was one the many vessels employed in the recent Suez Canal expansion project.

The world's two great inter-ocean canals, Panama and Suez, have been in the news lately, as has a proposed new inter-ocean canal across the country of Nicaragua in Central America. In Egypt a new by-pass lane connecting the Ballah and Deversoir bypasses, both built in the 1980s, has been completed under the project name "New Suez Canal." This has given the sea level waterway the ability to handle two large convoys of about 45 ships each day, one northbound and the other southbound, rather than the traditional three smaller convoys.

The project is estimated to have cost more than $8 billion to complete and was accomplished by a consortia that included the National Marine Dredging Company of the United Arab

Emirates as well as Royal Boskalis Westminster and Van Oord of the Netherlands and Belgium's Jan de Nul and Deme groups. America's Great Lakes Dredge and Dock Company was also involved.

At the height of the project more than one million cubic meters of material was being dredged daily to provide 37 kilometers of new by-pass channel while expanding and deepening 35 kilometers of existing channel. This effectively created a new 72-kilometer-long central section of the canal where two-way traffic can be handled simultaneously, an arrangement that is expected to shorten the total transit time for ships as well as the period they must wait to transit.

On the 1st of September, less than one month after inauguration of the new by-pass, the canal handled a new one-day record of 70 ships with a cargo capacity of more than 4 million tons, 34 moving to the east and 36 headed west.

Panama Springs a Leak

While the enlargement of the Suez Canal seems to have gone off without a hitch, not so at Panama, where the construction of a new and larger set of locks, originally due to have opened in August 2014, has suffered numerous delays, the latest being the discovery of poorly-poured concrete. The defective concrete was found when the new Cocoli Locks on the Pacific side of the waterway were being tested with water.

After significant leakage was noticed in the sill of lock head 3, which divides the middle chamber from the lock's lower chamber, core samples were taken from the lock head and examined by experts from the Technological University of Panama and the Canal Administration's own engineers. The samples showed a large number of air pockets, possibly because the wet concrete had not been sufficiently vibrated as it was poured.

The contractor for the project, Grupo Unidos por el Canal (GUPC), which is composed of Sacyr Vallehermoso of Spain, Impregilo of Italy, Jan De Nul of Belgium and Constructura Urbana of Panama, has acknowledged the problem and originally stated that it would only take about a month to repair, with the locks still set to open by April 2016. However, others who have seen the concrete samples feel that date may have to be altered.

To date, construction of the two new lock sets at Panama has required more than 4.4 million cubic meters of concrete, well beyond the 3.4 million cubic meters used to build the Canal's original locks.

A Nicaraguan Canal?

In neighboring Nicaragua a symbolic groundbreaking ceremony has taken place for the construction of a new 172-mile (278 km) canal to compete with the Panama Canal but skepticism concerning the $50 billion project is wide spread. It is being undertaken by the Hong Kong-based HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co Ltd (HKND Group), which is controlled by Chinese telecom mogul Wang Jing.

HKND engineers envision a route starting from the mouth of the Brito River, on Nicaragua's Pacific coast, that would pass through Lake Nicaragua and end near the Punta Gorda River on the country's Caribbean coast. The proposed artificial waterway would be between 230-meters and 520-meters (754.6 feet and 1,706 feet) wide and 27.6-meters (90.6 feet) deep, with a 400-square-kilometer (150 square mile) artificial lake created to operate the lock system rather than drawing water from Lake Nicaragua.

Panama Canal Authority

An overhead view of ships transiting the existing locks of the Panama Canal illustrates the very tight clearances involved and the pressing need for wider locks.

Two lock complexes would be built to lift and lower ships from the 31.3-meter elevation of Lake Nicaragua, with the western Brito Locks to be built 14.5 km inland from the Pacific while the eastern Camilo Locks would be constructed 13.7 km inland from the Caribbean.

Each of the lock chambers would measure 520-meters (1,706 feet) by 75-meters (246 feet) with a threshold depth of 27.6-meters (91 feet). This compares to the third set of locks being completed at Panama which measure 427-meters (1,401 feet) by 55-meters (180 feet) and are 18.3-meters (60 feet) deep.

To date no significant construction has taken place on the proposed Nicaragua Canal other than some minor road building. An earlier attempt to build a canal through the Central American country, using the course of the San Juan River near the Costa Rican border, was abandoned in the financial panic of 1893.

 
 

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