Didem Doğan

Panama Canal: mankind’s most obstinate ambition against nature

Let’s talk about the story of the Panama Canal. When you visit the Miraflores Locks you watch the passing of the vessels by the Canal, you also visit the Museum where various information are provided. French started the project in late 19th century and worked on it from 1880 to 1901, however they had to quit the project due to high mortality rates (more than thirty thousand workers died due to yellow fever) and costs. In 1903 the Americans started over again and finished it in eleven years. Thanks to the Canal today ships do not have to travel to the South till the Drake passage or the Magellan Canal and cross from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic (or vice-versa) by gaining enormous time. 

Some numbers: It has been now more than a century since its construction and more than one million vessels have passed from one ocean to the other via this Canal. The Canal is 80 kms with ports both in the Pacific and the Atlantic and currently 160 countries use the interoceanic route in 144 routes that arrive to 1700 ports from around the world. The expansion of the Canal let the passing of larger vessels with greater cargo volumes. Traditionally the vessels used to transport corn, soy, wheat, minerals, petroleum products. With expanded Canal new market segments such as liquefied natural gas are also transported. The main commercial routes that use the Panamanian route are between the East Coast of the Untied State and Asia, between the West Coast of the United States and the West Coast of South America, between Europe and West Coast of South America, between the West Coast of the United States and Canada and Europe. The Canal’s main customers are Unites States, China, Chile,Europe, Japan and South Korea. That is how a person enjoys a Chilean wine in New York or an Ecuadorian banana in Spain.

Some dates: 1903, signing of the Hay-Bunau Varilla Treaty which granted the United States perpetual operation rights of the Canal and its presence in a strip of Panamanian territory. 1977: signing by US President Carter and Panama General Torrijos of the Canal treaties that set the complete transfer of the waterway to Panama. In 1999 the Canal is completely transferred to Panama. By 2010 one million vessels had passed the Canal and in 2016 the expansion of the Canal is inaugurated. The Panamanians changed the pricing policy and took the Canal as a way of raising funds for the development of the country. Today vessels pay an average between 300.000 to 400.000 USD, whereas the ships that transit the expanded Canal with larger cargo volume pay up to 500.000 - 800.000 USD. 

An interesting fact: the lowest toll in the history of the Panama Canal was paid by the American adventurer Richard Haliburton, who crossed swimming in 1928, he paid only 38 cents! The Canal heroes are also commemorated in the museum; workers who came from Barbados, but also from Martinique, Guadeloupe, Trinidad, Jamaica. There were also Spanish, Italians, Greeks, Hindus, Americans, Armenians, Cubans, Costa Ricans, Colombians, Panamanians. 

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