President Martin Torrijos welcomed the backing for the plan which, it is hoped, will double the Canal’s capacity. “Never in the history of the country have we Panamanians taken a decision of this magnitude. We have laid the foundation for a better country,” he said. Voter turnout was a relatively low 40%.
Work on the expansion is due to start in 2008 and the project should be completed by 2014, 100 years after the Canal was first opened. Around 14,000 ships a year pass through it, representing 5% of all shipping worldwide. However, the 50-mile canal is not wide enough for the latest generation of container vessels, and in recent years congestion has meant increasing delays.