- Connections between the U.S. and Panama run deep as the U.S. military built the canal – They are bound by treaty when it comes to protecting the canal.
- The original canal was used to move goods from the Pacific to the Caribbean (or vice versa).
- The rates are based on the maximum gross tonnage for cargo ships.
- Expanded locks that run parallel to the original canal are equipped to accept new “Neo-Panamax” ships up to 1,450 feet long.
- The largest ships can haul more than 13,000 containers at a time.
According to Anchorage Daily News, there was an air of anticipation on the ship, the Safari Voyager, as it approached the Panama Canal.
Scenic Panama Canal
The horizon was dotted with ships. Very big ships. The captain had mentioned there would be visitors on board. First came the ship inspectors. Next came the engineers. Then the ship pilot, who stands on the bridge as the ship’s crew lines up at the locks.
The skyline of Panama City was glistening in the afternoon sun as we anchored at our appointed spot to wait for our inspectors. But after the sun went down, it was the Bridge of the Americas that stood out, arching high over the Pacific entrance to the canal. Below, docks on both sides of the canal were busy loading and unloading thousands of CONEX containers.
A relation between the U.S. and Panama
The connections between the U.S. and Panama run deep. But the thin strip of land that separates the Caribbean from the Pacific has been an active trade route for centuries.
The first railroad across the Isthmus was completed in the 1840s. Then, after the French abandoned their effort to build a canal, the U.S. military built the canal. The first ship sailed through in 1914.
Origins of the Panama Canal
The original canal itself is just one way to move goods from the Pacific to the Caribbean (or vice versa). After all, it’s expensive for ships to transit the canal. The rates are based on the maximum gross tonnage for cargo ships. There are fuel pipelines to take oil from coast to coast and load it up on tankers on the other side.
In fact, lots of Alaska oil passed through those pipelines in the 1980s. There is a modern railroad with spurs that run right up to the dock to load containers for the quick journey across the country. There also is a fleet of tractor-trailer rigs to haul a few containers at a time.
For the past two years, the new, expanded locks that run parallel to the original canal are equipped to accept new “Neo-Panamax” ships up to 1,450 feet long. The largest ships can haul more than 13,000 containers at a time.
Locks on the canal
Ships sail under their own power through the locks. The cables and the rails are there to make sure the ship stays in the middle. The larger “Panamax” freighters can be 96 feet wide. That gives about 12 inches of leeway on either side of the lock.
The original canal locks operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The new, larger locks only accept ships during daylight hours, although that is expected to change soon.
Bound by treaty
The U.S. and Panama still are bound by treaty when it comes to protecting the canal. Roca said that once each year, the U.S. ships thousands of troops and a variety of ships to participate in readiness drills. It usually takes eight hours to transit the canal.
Because of the long U.S. presence in the Canal Zone, the dollar still is legal tender in Panama. It’s a Spanish-speaking country, but English is widely spoken. The Panama Canal now is a defining economic engine for the country, in addition to its position in international banking, financing and logistics.
Jaw dropping spectacle
It was a jaw-dropping spectacle to move among the giant ships and be lifted up more than 80 feet from the Pacific Ocean to Lake Gatun. This reservoir, when constructed more than 100 years ago, was the largest-ever man-made lake (it has since been eclipsed by Lake Mead in Nevada).
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