Panama to open enlarged Canal on June 26

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Panama City (AFP)

Panama will inaugurate its newly expanded canal on June 26, nearly two years behind schedule, the head of the state canal authority said Wednesday.

"With the inauguration of this project, we will claim once again our historic vocation as a route of transit and a meeting point of civilizations," the Canal Authority's CEO Jorge Quijano said at a ceremony alongside Panama's President Juan Carlos Varela.

"We are aware that the enlargement work has not been easy," Varela added. "Despite the setbacks, successful progress has been made toward its completion."

The massive, multibillion-dollar project had originally been scheduled to end in October 2014 but has been successively pushed back.

It has suffered construction and labor problems, legal issues and the discovery of fissures in one of the widened locks.

Work to enlarge the 50-mile (80-kilometer) long waterway to handle more traffic and bigger cargo ships started in 2007.

The project's cost is estimated to have ballooned from an initially budgeted $5.3 billion to around $7 billion.

Some five percent of the world's commercial shipping passes through the Panama Canal.

The Central American country earns $1 billion a year in revenue from shipping fees. With the expansion, it hopes to triple that within a decade.