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Panama Canal Authority Welcomes WEDA’s Central America Chapter Annual Meeting to Panama City

The Miraflores Locks on the Pacific side at night: Large container vessels move through the the Panama Canal locks 24/7.

The Miraflores Locks on the Pacific side at night: Large container vessels move through the the Panama Canal locks 24/7.

Manuel Benitez, deputy administrator of the Pan-ama Canal welcomed attendees at the start of the conference.

The Western Dredging Association (WEDA) Central America Chapter Annual Meeting was held from September 13 to 15 at the Hilton Panama in Panama City. The meeting was organized in strategic partnership with the Panama Canal Authority (ACP), Panama Maritime Authority and Panama Ports Company and supported by a large and diverse group of international sponsors. Attended by more than 80 participants representing various aspects of the dredging industry and hailing from all over the world, the importance of the Panama Canal and the incredible dredging achievement that this represents was evident.

The Western Dredging Association (WEDA) Central America Chapter meeting was supported by a large and diverse group of international sponsors. From left, Hans Risseeuwl, Marcel Boor and Riny Mourik, all of IHC.

Head of the Engineering Department at the Panama Maritime Authority Adalberto Antonio Alguero spoke on how dredging has evolved in Panama.

In the Canal Command Tower at the new Cocoli Locks on the Pacific Ocean side, the tour group was shown the high-tech instrumentation that guides vessels through the locks.

The drilling and blasting barge Baru drills holes that are then filled with explosives, blasting the hard rock of the Canal’s waterbed.

The Panama Canal Authority’s backhoe dredge Rialto M. Christensen was commissioned in 1977 and is still one of the reliable workhorses at the Panama Canal. 

“Some 40 people from the ACP attended and their presentations formed the backbone of the meeting,” according to Michael Gerhardt, WEDA’s Latin American chairman and assistant executive director of Dredging Contractors of America. “WEDA and I cannot thank the ACP team enough for their commitment, hard work and enthusiasm, spearheaded by their own Raul Figueroa. Raul is also president of WEDA’s Central American Chapter. Their tireless efforts effectively returned WEDA to Panama for the first time in six years. By all metrics their work helped us realize an incredibly high caliber event.”

During the first two days, all events were held at the Hilton Panama in Panama City. Then, in the early morning of day three, the group was transported to the canal where they were treated to a full-day tour traversing the Canal from one ocean to the other, from the new Cocoli Locks on the Pacific to the new Agua Clara Locks on the Atlantic.

The meeting was officially opened on Tues-day, September 13 with a “welcome lunch” and remarks by WEDA’s President Marcel Hermans, Manuel Benitez, deputy administrator of the Panama Canal and Raul Figueroa. This was followed by presentations with an abundance of excellent technical information.

First up was an address by Adalberto Antonio Alguero, head of the Engineering Department at the Panama Maritime Authority on “The Evolution of Hydrography and Dredging in Panama.” This was the lead-in to the first session on “The Panama Canal Expansion” with individual presentations by the Panama Canal Authority project management board. Four presentations explained the technical challenges at the canal: “Facing the Panama Canal Geology” by Derek Irving, geologist engineer supervisor; “Dredging of the Panama Canal Entrances,” by Roderick Lee, project manager; “Construc-tion/Operations of Third Set of Locks” by Jose Reyes, project manager; and “Marine Traffic and Channel Requirements” by Ricardo Varela, port captain.

After a mid-afternoon coffee break, the second session picked up the Canal Expansion theme from a socio-economic viewpoint, with presentations by three more members of the Panama Canal Authority Project Management Board: “Socio‐Environmental Management” by Daniel Muschett, environmental protection manager; “Global Influence of the Expanded Canal” by Marianela Dengo, strategic relations manager and “Future Capital and Maintenance Works” by Luis Paniza, dredging division engineer. 

To round off this day of high-level information from the Canal Authority, participants were invited to a networking reception. The cacophony of conversations in multiple languages filling the lounge was proof of the distances participants had traveled from South America, Europe, Canada, the U.S. and neighboring Central American countries.

The second day was no less exciting than the first, as presentations continued highlighting the broad range of dredging activities throughout Panama and Central America: “Dry Excavation of Pacific Access Channel” by Jorge Fernandez, manager of Construction Projects/Contracts, Panama Canal Authority; “Port of Balboa Ex-pansion” by Juan Carlos Fernandez Casillas, senior projects manager, Panama Ports Company; “Ocean Reef Islands: The First Man‐Made Is-lands in Latin America” by Simon Overgaauw, project manager for Punta Pacifica Island, Boskalis Panama.

The second half of the morning session was devoted to equipment and gave suppliers an opportunity to profile their newest technologies. This included presentations by Olivier Marcus, product director dredging at Damen Shipyards; and Marcel Boor, product director, and Riny Mourik, sales manager, both at Royal IHC, offering details on developments in hop-per dredges and dredging instrumentation and automation. Damen and IHC are both head-quartered in the Netherlands. Andres Borasino, international sales manager at Ellicott Dredges of Baltimore, Maryland, completed the line-up with information about cutter suction dredges for deep applications in dams and reservoirs.

After lunch the focus turned to industry and government with a presentation on “The Panama Canal and Central America – Industry’s Experience and Goals” by Dominic de Prins, project manager at the Jan De Nul Group; “Cos-ta Rica’s Experience with Dredging: Current and Future Projects” by Carlos Rueda Segura, official of the National Concessions Council and project manager of the Moin Container Terminal, Costa Rica; and “Dredging the Panama Canal and Its Challenges” by Tomas Stouten, project control engineer, DEME; and finally, “The Politics of Ports: Cuba’s Strategy and What They Can and Can’t Influence” by John S. Kavulich II, president, United States-Cuba Trade and Economic Council. Both Jan De Nul Group and DEME were and are main contractors at the Panama Canal expansion project. All presentations are downloadable at the WEDA website (www.westerndredging.org).

Thanks to the imagination of the organizers, the meeting was not only an “indoors” between-four-walls event. On the last day a comprehensive tour of the Panama Canal, narrated by the ACP, gave participants the opportunity to see what they had been hearing about. After an 8 a.m. pick-up at the hotel, the group was taken to the new Cocoli Locks on the Pacific Ocean. As a surprise, the Panama Canal Authority led the group to the top floor of the Canal Command Tower. There they could see with their own eyes the high technology that guides post-Panamax vessels through the new locks – not to forget the incredible views looking out over the water.

The trip continued by bus with a look at the Pedro Miguel Locks in Paraiso and a tour by the ACP Dredging Division in Gamboa, which is located at the center of the canal on Gatun Lake. Here delegates were able to watch ongoing dredging and blasting operations aimed at widening the Canal at that point to handle two-way traffic. 

Continuing from Gamboa, a launch vessel took the group to the new Agua Clara Locks on the Canal’s Atlantic side. Gerhardt adds, “WEDA was proud to be the first group to get the official tour of the new locks since their inauguration in June.” The return trip was capped by a sunset networking reception, overlooking the Miraflores Locks, complete with traditional folk dancers.

According to Gerhardt, “WEDA’s long-term goal has been to enlarge the WEDA family geographically. With our 2014 meeting in Toronto, and now two back-to-back meetings in Latin America, last year in Mexico and now in Panama, we are not only expanding our professional community of experts but also tapping into markets that are thirsty for educational out-reach and information sharing – two activities which WEDA is proud to say is part of their core focus. The Western Dredging Association now seriously represents all of the dredging industry in the Americas, from North to South and all that is in between.” 

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