Monday, April 02, 2018

Admiring the Panama Canal: A true engineering marvel

A vessel passes the Panama Canal's Miraflores Locks
The Oilholic finds himself on this glorious sunny day roughly 5,300 miles away from his abode of London town, admiring a marvel of modern engineering – the Panama Canal. In fact, yours truly got to do so both from the shore and on the water aboard the Pacific Queen.

Being a creature of habit, a Forbes piece will follow later down this month. However, this outing is no 'crude' assignment, rather a bid by this blogger to fulfill a long held desire to see the Canal. This maritime shortcut – in operation since 15 August, 1914 built after a decade of construction – serves to connect the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans at the narrowest point of the Isthmus of Panama and the American continent.

The journey, north to south or vice versa, takes around 8 to 10 hours over a distance of around 80km (50 miles) depending on traffic, saving shippers of bulk cargo and commodities, including oil and gas, almost 15 days of circling around Cape Horn.

And for those privileged enough to have travelled on the Canal, as the Oilholic did today, would notice its locks – including the iconic Miraflores and Pedro Miguel locks – serve as water lifts to raise or lower ships from the Pacific or Atlantic Oceans, depending on their North or Southbound routes, either side of the Isthmus of Panama, to the artificial Gatun Lake 27 meters above sea level; the Canal's connecting water body for transit.

The Panama government pumped in $5.3bn towards the Canal's expansion in 2007 following public consultation, and the expanded Canal – inaugurated on 26 June 2016 – saw its capacity double. So atop Panamax vessels, it can now handle Neo-Panamax vessels (or Aframax class).

These days toll fees charged for the largest vessels per crossing could be in the range of $500,000 to $800,000. The Panama Canal Authority, a public body entrusted with running the Canal since Panama took over the administration of the waterway from the US in 1999, argues that a trip around Cape Horn would cost way more both in monetary terms and time of passage.

Not content with visiting the Miraflores center, The Oilholic also lapped up views of the waterway from Cerro Ancon - Panama City's highest point.

But of course, the main show came on board the Pacific Queen, when one got a feel of the Panama Canal going southbound from the Atlantic to the Pacific crossing Gatun, Pedro Miguel and Miraflores locks, being first raised to Gatun lake, and then lowered on the journey to the Pacific, heading under the Centennal Bridge and the Bridge of the Americas before ending a memorable voyage.

All in all, an amazing outing and to have been here and seen it. And with that done, it's time to head back. Photos from the outing - with captions - are spread across this post (and below), along with a video of a tanker crossing the Miraflores locks (above). But alas, that's all from Panama City folks! Keep reading, keep it 'crude'!

ADDENDUM: April 16, 2018: As promised here is The Oilholic’s report on ‘crude’ traffic on the Panama Canal for Forbes.

The Oilholic's glimpses of the Panama Canal:

Miraflores Locks, Panama Canal

Tanker makes its way through Miraflores Locks

Pedro Miguel Locks, Panama Canal

Vessel crossing Pedro Miguel Locks

Gatun Lake, Panama Canal

Bridge of the Americas

View of Panama Canal & Albrook Port from Cerro Ancon

© Gaurav Sharma 2018. Photos © Gaurav Sharma, April 2018. 

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