Panama Canal Widening at 75 Percent
Manager, Corporate Communications
Panama Canal Authority
PANAMA, May 25, 2000 - Gaillard or Culebra Cut, a narrow eight-mile-long stretch, was widened from its original 300 feet to 500 feet during the 1960s. The ongoing widening program will increase the navigable channel to a minimum of 630 feet in straight sections and 730 feet on curves, reducing the time vessels must spend maneuvering in this area of the Canal.
The logistics behind the Cut's widening program is extremely complex. So far, 93 percent of the dry excavation program has been completed. The wet excavation stands at the 75 percent completion point, and 92 percent of drilling and blasting operations have been finished. Widening projects that have been completed include Mandinga, Elliot, Eduardo, Tres Pesos, Borinquen, Obispo, Cascadas, North La Pita, and South La Pita. The status of other projects, such as Empire, Gold Hill, Contractor's Hill, Escobar, Cartagena, and the Paraiso Tie-up Station, oscillate between 18 and 87 percent.
Dredging Division Operations Section has the responsibility of resolving unforeseen situations that may occur along the waterway, and it also works on the cut widening program. The secret of this section's success is its flexibility in the use of resources and the adequate maintenance it provides its equipment, including dredges, barges, and
The section's dredges, Rialto M. Christensen and Mindi, are responsible for the wet excavation of the Gaillard or Culebra Cut widening program. The Christensen excavates with a dipper and deposits the material in a barge, which is later transported to a disposal site. The Mindi is a cutterhead dredge, which pumps the material to the placement site through a system of discharge pipes.
The Christensen has excavated some 4.6 million cubic meters and the Mindi, which began operations in the Cut in 1996, has excavated some 2.4 million cubic meters. The Christensen and the Mindi join efforts to continuously work on this project, which is crucial to augment Canal's
capacity. Both dredges have been scheduled to continue working to complete the project in the year 2002.
The dredges work in close coordination with the Drilling and Blasting Section, which is responsible for drilling holes and performing blasts for this project and others. Once the soil's composition is determined, workers drill the holes according to an established pattern using the drillboat Thor. The holes are filled with explosive and detonated.
This group drills along the canal banks up to a 75-feet depth, following an established pattern dictated by the condition of the rocks. The success of each blast is due to the ability of the employees, who comply with all the existing safety measures.
At the Dredging Division, the human aspect combines most favorably with the heavy equipment, resulting in a safe and efficient operation. The Cut's widening project coordinator Luis Santanach said, "The success of this project is attributed to the quality of the human resource. They work around the clock to meet the objectives of the Canal Authority and maintain a high level of excellence in terms of the quality of service offered to internal and external clients of the organization, while keeping traffic through the waterway safely and expeditiously. With the support of other Canal divisions, the execution of the project is on target and it is
scheduled for completion by December 2002.
Among its many advantages, the widening will reduce the risk of landslides and it will also eliminate many of the traffic restrictions, increasing the locks' capacity. The Cut's widening is part of the waterway's more ample modernization and improvements program developed to benefit the country and the world maritime industry.