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Panama reveals canal’s inauguration date

The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) has announced that the expanded canal will be officially inaugurated on June 26, 2016.

The date of the official inauguration of the expanded waterway, which was initially set to be finished by the end of 2014, was revealed during a ceremony for ACP’s inauguration of a scale model manoeuvring training facility.

“We have had some problems with the contractors and also some problems with seepage – all of that has been resolved,” Jose Ramon Arango, senior international trade specialist at ACP, reportedly said at a conference earlier this week.

Shipping consultancy CK Americas’ president Michael Kaasner Kristiansen, who expressed doubts that the Panama Canal’s new locks will open in June 2016 in an article published on his Linked earlier this month, told CM that he remains sceptical of a commercial opening by June 30, 2016 .

He pointed out that ACP is set to conduct the first live testing in April with an empty tanker, and this test will determine how fast thereafter the expanded canal’s commercial opening can take place. “The inauguration is an event with a lot of attendees – the president is sending out invitations right now – and I am sure it will take place, whether or not the canal is ready for commercial opening,” he added.

According to Kristiansen, most shipping lines are not immediately deploying larger tonnage and “certainly not neo-Panamax”.

“My call in the article is for better communication allowing shipping lines better planning and more focus on this main task of ACP, rather than Corozal,” he added.

A few days before announcing the official inauguration date, the ACP issued an advisory to shipping setting temporary draft restrictions as preventive measures to tackle changing rainfall patterns associated with El Niño, a climate phenomenon which results in the periodic warming of the tropical Pacific Ocean.

The advisory, which sets the maximum draft at 11.89 m Tropical Fresh Water (TFW) effective April 18, follows the news that the phenomenon triggered a drought in the Canal Watershed, with water levels of Gatun and Alhajuela Lakes falling substantially below their average for this time of the year.

“These measures are being taken to ensure the continuous and safe operation of the canal during this period,” ACP said in a statement.

ACP said that the Panama Canal will continue to monitor and manage the water levels, adding that the draft restrictions will be implemented in 15 cm decrements at a time, with every restriction announced at least four weeks in advance.