Panama Canal

Why was the Panama Canal constructed?

The Panama Canal is a canal made in the Columbian province of panama to join the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. The canal has helped the shipping between the two oceans to a large extent as the long and unsafe route through the Drake Passage and Cape Horn at the southernmost tip of South America can be avoided by following Panama Canal. The planning of developing a canal near Panama dates back to the early 16th century. The initial most attempts to construct a canal began in 1880 but failed and nearly 21,900 workers die during the construction.

Loss during the Panama Canal construction

The construction of canal was undertaken and completed by the United States. The canal was opened in 1914. The phase of construction was weighed down by problems including diseases such as malaria and yellow fever and landslides. Till the canal was completed approximately 27,500 workers are died in the French and American efforts.

What are the benefits of the Panama Canal?

  • Since opening, the canal has been a huge success and paved the way for international naval trade.
  • The canal has the capacity to accommodate vessels from small private yachts up to large commercial vessels.
  • The largest size of vessel that can be accommodated in the canal is known as Panamax. A cargo ship takes around nine hours to travel through the canal.
  • The canal has many artificial lakes and artificial channels, and three sets of locks.
  • An additional artificial lake, Alajuela Lake is the reservoir for the canal.

More facts about Panama Canal

  • The canal has been opened for 95 years and it continues to be a great success.
  • The world shipping and the size of ships have been changed remarkably.
  • Since the canal has been constructed it is proved a vital link in world trade. It is carrying more cargo with less overhead costs.
  • However, the canal faces a number of problems.

Efficiency of Panama Canal

  • The efficiency of canal is improving under Panamanian control.
  • Canal Waters Time (CWT) is the average time taken by a vessel to navigate the canal.
  • CWT is a key to measure efficiency. The Panama Canal Authority also claims that the rate of accidents in the canal waterways is considerably low.
  • Imports from Asia have increased and from the U.S. west coast ports, now passing through the canal to the American east coast.
  • The fiscal year of canal runs from October to September.
  • There a sharp rise in average ship size and in the numbers of Panamax vessels passing. As a result the total tons carried have increased from 227.9 million PC/UMS tons in fiscal year 1999 to 296.0 million tons in 2006.
  • The canal set a new record on March 13, 2006, when 1,070,023 PC/UMS tons shipment passed the waterway.
  • The previous traffic record of 1,005,551 PC/UMS tons was set on March 16, 2004.

What are the challenges before Panama Canal?

  • The canal is presently handling more vessel traffic than ever estimated.
  • In 1934, it was expected that the maximum capacity of the canal would be around 80 million tons per year.
  • But the canal traffic in 2005 consisted of 278.8 million tons of shipping.
  • The canal would soon be reaching its maximum capacity.
  • Another complication is that the number of large ships passing through the canal is increasing which may result in reduction in the number of transits, even if cargo tonnage is increased.
  • So, if the canal is required to serve the world shipping, steady steps should be taken to increase its capacity.
  • Although the canal has leaded in being a huge success it is facing challenges from other quarters.
  • There is a rumor of planning of new canal construction through Colombia, Nicaragua or the Isthmus of Tehuantepec in Mexico.
  • If built, it will be proficient of accommodating post-Panamax vessels, and two private plans for a railway linking ports on the two coasts.
  • A notable problem is lowering of the amount of water in Gatun Lake due to deforestation.
  • Huge amount of fresh water from the lake is drained into the sea by the locks every time a ship passes the canal.