Semi-silently, excluding all the fuss, the celebrities and the dignitaries, a little bit of history was made on Thursday 10th June, when the first test post-panamax ship made its slow and stately way through the brand new locks on the Atlantic side of the Panama Canal. The engineers, pilots, tugboat crews and wharf staff have been running computer simulations for over five months as well as checking that all the water retention and lock valves are correctly working; along with the operation of the massive lock gates as they slide in and out of the lock area: but now the time came to, as my Scots friends would say, ‘Mak Siccar’.
I have commissioned many projects in many places, and have always felt that the hours spent in testing and retesting everything, every interlock, every fail-safe were worth it, despite my family’s stated wish that they might see their Dad / Husband for a few more hours in the week. True, the Canal expansion has not been without incident, with leaking lock cills, mammoth cost overruns and claims, most yet to be completely settled. As for the latter, when Bechtel International tendered a cost of $5.35 billions, as against the Italy/Spain/Panama bid of $3.75 billion; all that cost being used up during construction before a single lock was completed, leading to the claims, stoppages and withdrawal of all contractors before the Canal Authority gave way, and authorised the extra cash.
But all that trouble is now safely behind the expanded Canal, and with the opening scheduled for June 26th, and commercial crossings scheduled for a slow beginning the next day, it looks as though the largest Civil, Mechanical and Electrical Engineering project in South America, although delayed, will give the world of the super-sized ships the smooth passage they deserve!