The Panama Canal is an artificial waterway that connects the Atlantic and the Pacific oceans. It has been considered for a long time one of the most significant transport waterways of international importance. In 1904, the US War Department began the construction of the canal. The first ship passed through the Panama Canal in 1914, but it was officially opened only in 1920. Its length is 81.8 km, and it takes approximately 7-8 hours to pass the canal with a ship.
In the middle of the XIX century, Britain and the United States argued for the right to construct the canal. France took advantage of their contradictions and began construction in 1879. However, due to the collapse of the French company, the US gained the right to construct the Panama Canal in 1901.
The ports Cristobal and Colon are located near the Atlantic entrance to the Panama Canal; Balboa and Panama near the Pacific one. There are 6 paired gateways at the Panama Canal. The ships move through the locks with special electric locomotives. The average capacity of the Panama Canal is 36 ships, the maximum – 48 vehicles per day. Thanks to the Panama Canal the ships do not have to go through the Strait of Magellan or around Cape Horn anymore. It radically changed the direction of a number of leading sea routes. The Panama Canal is of primary importance to the east and west coasts of the United States. The distance decreased considerably between the U.S. East Coast and the Far East as well as between the countries of Latin America. In 1971, 15.3 thousand ships passed through the Panama Canal, with a total tonnage of 121 million tons. More than 70% of the goods were sent from the United States or to the U.S. ports. The carrying capacity of the Panama Canal is almost exhausted. Furthermore, the vessels of more than 40 tons, such as large passenger liners, supertankers and new carriers, cannot pass through its gateways.
On October 23, 2006, a referendum on expanding the Panama Canal was summed up in Panama and was supported by 79% of the population. By 2014, it will be upgraded, and the oil tankers of 300 tons will be able to pass through it, which will significantly reduce the time of delivery of Venezuelan oil to China. During the reconstruction, new, wider gateways will be built. As a result, by 2014-2015, supertankers with a displacement of up to 170 thousand tons will be able to pass through the Panama Canal. The maximum channel capacity will increase to 18.8 thousand ships per year. The reconstruction will cost $5.25 billion. It is expected that by 2015, Panama will receive $ 2.5 billion in revenues from the canal, and by 2025, revenues will grow to $ 4.3 billion.