Panama Canal traffic 'normal' despite lock wall collapse

Panama City (AFP) –


Shipping traffic through the Panama Canal is "normal," despite the collapse of a wall segment of one of its locks over the weekend, Panama Canal Authority officials said.

Sunday's incident occurred just four weeks before Panama is to inaugurate a costly and lengthy expansion of the century-old canal with a mediatized ceremony.

But the ACP noted that the affected lock wall had no connection to the canal expansion work.

It stressed on its Twitter account that "transit and lock operations were being normally carried out" as repairs were made.

It posted photos of ships passing through the affected Miraflores lock -- the first of three lock systems encountered by ships entering the 80-kilometer (50-mile) canal from the Pacific Ocean -- to show there were no significant problems.

The locks serve to lift or descend ships 27 meters (90 feet) as they cross the narrow Central American isthmus that separates the Atlantic and Pacific oceans.

On June 26, Panamanian President Juan Carlos Varela is due to lead the inauguration ceremony of the expanded canal to which 70 foreign heads of state and government have been invited.

The event is intended to mark the end of the mammoth project, which went well beyond its initial 2014 deadline and $5.25 billion budget.

Some five percent of world maritime traffic travels through the canal, with an average 35-40 ships passing through every day.

The aim of the expansion is to allow passage of bigger New Panamax-class container ships and to triple the canal's capacity.

That would greatly boost the annual revenue Panama collects in shipping passage fees, which is currently worth a billion dollars.