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Panama Canal update

ACP awaits detailed report on water seepage

Will the expanded Panama Canal open to commercial traffic in April 2016 as planned – or will there be a further delay as a result of reported leakage problems in part of the new Pacific locks?

That was the question being asked by many in the shipping industry after pictures showing water leaks in one of the new lock heads were posted on social media in August.

At that time, the canal administrator Jorge L. Quijano, reportedly told HispanTV: “We won’t accept low-quality repairs. This is a new lock head and we expect it to work properly. We aim for a lifespan of 100 years.”

In a statement posted on 7 September the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) said it was awaiting a formal report from the main contractor, Grupo Unidos por el Canal (GUPC), following detailed inspections. It said the report would look at the root cause of the problem and recommend the method of repair. “Upon evaluating the report’s findings, the ACP will assess and communicate if the project’s completion timeline will be altered in any way,” said the ACP statement.

The filling of the Pacific-facing Cocolí Locks began on 22 June in a testing stage that was expected to take about 90 days. The flooding was carried out by a network of electric and diesel pumps, filling the lower chamber at a rate of nine inches per hour.

“This stage of testing is meant to timely detect and correct any deficiencies in the project,” said the ACP statement. “As part of this testing, some water seepage was detected in a specific area of the new Pacific locks in a section that separates the middle chamber and lower chamber, as they were being stress-tested through exposure to level differentials much higher than those required for normal operations, but that may occur during dry-chamber maintenance works in the future.” The ACP said it had appointed two independent external structural engineers to look into the reasons for “this localized problem” and assess GUPC’s solution.

“GUPC is obliged to ensure the long-term performance on all aspects of the construction of the locks and to correct this deficiency,” said the ACP statement. “Moreover, GUPC’s contract with the ACP dictates that the group is responsible for modifications and corrections that may be required.”

Encouraged

Meanwhile, the ACP says it is encouraged by overall progress with the project, which is now “93 per cent complete”.

In August, while testing of the new locks continued, the three dams next to the Cocolí Locks were completed. Borinquen dams 1W and 2W, located west of the Cocolí Locks, and 2E, on the eastern side, are constructed of rock particles and a clay core to prevent leakage between the new access channel and Miraflores Lake. Grout injections in the foundation rocks were used to create an impermeable barrier.

The dams are essential to the completion of the new locks project because the water level of the navigation channel of the expanded canal will increase by 9.0 metres.

Other work in progress includes the removal of the ‘plug’ (strip of land) separating the Cocolí Locks from the Pacific Ocean and the culmination of the Pacific Access Channel work. Likewise, the process of removing the equivalent ‘plug’ on the Atlantic side has been initiated.

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