The Panama Canal's third set of locks will begin commercial operations on June 27, albeit with draft restrictions owing to a severe El Niño-triggered drought, the interoceanic waterway's administrator said Friday.
Jorge Quijano said the inauguration would take place the day before, adding that initially the draft of ships navigating through the new locks and channels will have an upper limit of 41 feet (12.5 meters), less than the maximum draft of 50 feet (15.25 meters) when the canal’s lakes are at normal levels.
A ship's draft is the vertical distance between the waterline and the bottom of its hull.
The centerpiece of the canal's expansion program, launched in 2007 with an initial budget of $5.25 billion, the third set of locks will enable the canal to accommodate "New Panamax" ships.
Those modern ships hold up to 13,000 20-foot-long containers and are three times bigger than what the canal can currently handle.
With the draft restrictions, however, those ships will not be able to be filled to capacity.
The date of the official inauguration was pushed back on several occasions due to repairs, strikes and contractual disputes between the Panama Canal Authority, or ACP, and the consortium responsible for building the third set of locks.
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