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Panama Canal Expansion

Gatun Lake dredging contract completed


The Panama Canal Expansion is one of the world’s largest construction projects and the dredging of Gatun Lake was one of the most important significant components of the programme.

The Belgian contractor Dredging International de Panama S.A. has completed the dredging of the reaches north of Gatun Lake. This project, completed after two years of work, will guarantee expeditious and safe transit for post panamax ships.

Conducted in an area measuring 19.53 km, this contract involved the dredging, hauling and disposal of 4.1 million cubic metres of material. 


Contract specifications for a best-price tender were published on 30th November 2009. That process was concluded on 1st June 2010 with the awarding of the contract to Dredging International de Panama, whose bid amounted to $39.98 million.

The massive dredging project was completed without hampering regular canal operations and with special care to protect archaeology. As part of the contract, some 170 diving operations were conducted in the middle of the existing navigation channel for the removal of obstacles from the bottom of the channel. Artefacts dating from the French canal era were safely recovered including sections of Decauville wagons used for hauling dirt.


One significant highlight in the execution of this two-year contract was the outstanding safety performance, in which the industrial safety standard of one million work hours without a serious accident was achieved. 

Complementary dredging activities

The entrances to the waterway on the Pacific and Atlantic sides are currently being dredged. On the Pacific side, the project is the responsibility of Dredging International. The work involves widening the entrance navigation channel to a minimum of 225 metres and dredging to 15.5 metres below mean low sea water level as well as partially excavating the southern access to the Pacific locks. A total of 8.7 million cubic metres of material must be removed under this component of the expansion programme.


On the Atlantic, the contract was awarded to Jan De Nul N.V. This project involves dredging and dry excavation of nearly 17.9 million cubic metres of material. 

The contractor is dredging a 13.8 km extension and widening the existing Atlantic entrance navigational channel from 198 metres to a minimum of 225 metres as well as dredging the northern access to the new Atlantic locks to a minimum 218 metres. Jan De Nul is also dredging and excavating the new northern entrance to the Pacific access channel near the Culebra Cut.