The Panama Canal

By | Aug 15, 2008

It was on August 15, 1915 that the first cargo ship, The Ancon, traveled between the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans through the Panama Canal. This was two years ahead of the original scheduled completion date.

A Canal at this location had been envisioned across the narrow Isthmus of Panama as early as 1534 when Spain’s Charles V ordered a survey. Even before the canal’s completion the area was used as an overland trade route, helped greatly when a railroad path was completed in 1855.

Beginning in 1904 and under the leadership of the United States work began on the canal after Panama’s ambassador to the United States, signed the Hay-Bunau Varilla Treaty, granting rights to the United States to build and indefinitely administer the Panama Canal. In 1977 the United States turned control of the canal back to Panama.

A few times before the completion on 1914 work on building a canal was performed, but each time disease was terrible and construction ceased including nearly a decade of construction by the French from 1881 to 1889. By the end of the 19th century medicine had improved and diseases such as malaria and yellow fever were more controlled. As many as 22,000 workers are estimated to have died during the main period of French construction period where only 5,609 workers died during the American construction period (1904–1914).

Tolls for the canal are decided by the Panama Canal Authority. Cargo ship’s toll is based on the ship’s capacity expressed in twenty-foot equivalent units or TEUs. As of 2007 the toll is $54 per TEU. Other vessels’ toll are based upon their length beginning at $500 for a vessel under 50 feet to $1,500 for those over 100ft. The largest toll ever was $331,200 on May 16, 2008 to the 964-foot (295-meter) Disney Magic cruise liner. The smallest was paid by American adventurer Richard Halliburton who swam the canal in 1928 for 36 cents.

The canal is currently going through an estimated 6 Billion Dollar expansion phase that will build additional Locks which will allow the canal to increase traffic from 280 million PC/UMS tons in 2005 to nearly 510 million PC/UMS tons in 2025.


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