Facts About the Panama Canal
Panama is the southernmost country in central America, and the most southerly country on the North American continent.
It is situated on the Isthmus of Panama otherwise know as the Darien Gap, a narrow piece of land that lies between the Caribbean Sea and the-pacific-ocean, which links the two continents of North and South America.
It's dominant feature is a central mountainous region formed from volcanic intrusions that forms the continental divide, called Cordillera de Talamanca.
A small country only 72,420 sq km in size, with a mountainous landscape containing inpenetrable jungle, deep swampland and dense forestation interspersed with over 500 rivers.
The county's narrowest point is an area that has for years been a place of interest to the shipping industry.
A ship travelling from Europe or the eastern seaboard of America to Asia, can reduce a journey by thousands of miles, making a saving on man hours, fuel and delivery deadlines, not to mention avoiding the treacherous waters of the North West Passage in Canada or Drakes Passage on the Cape of Horn in South America.
Since 1534 when the King of Spain first surveyed the area as a means of travelling from west to east, man has strived to conquer the geological make - up of this country, for the use of international shipping.
There have been at least five attempts to build a canal here, but all have failed due to either unmanagable terrain, or illness ( mainly malaria and yellow fever ) that has decimated working parties.During the first serious attempt at building a canal, between 1855 and 1880, 27,000 men died from illness and work related accidents before the project was eventually halted.
However, one party did succeed, starting work in May of 1904, a combined Franco / American venture that was considered the largest and most difficult engineering project ever undertaken, that took ten years to complete and saw the deaths of over 5000 labourers from all over the world.
The canal under construction in 1907.
During the early years of construction, just a few thousand men worked the project, but as time went by as many as 30,000 men a year were employed in the venture, who were all housed and fed by the construction company, along with the families of those that were married.
Two canal ships were employed in bringing building materials on site, the Ancon and the Cristobel, but the first ship to officially travel the completed canal was the Alexandre La Valley, on the 1 st of January 1914.
The official opening of the canal however wasn't until August the 15 th of that year, where a large grand opening had been planned, but due to the start of W.W.I, the opening was cancelled, and the event went almost un- noticed.
The canal is situated between the cities of Colon, at the Caribbean Sea entrance and the country's capital, Panama City, at the-pacific-ocean entrance, 77 km apart ( 50 miles ).
The canal is serviced by three locks, The Gatun, The Pedro Miguel and The Mirflores.
A ship entering the Miraflores Lock.
Eack lock is 110 feet wide by 1,000 feet long and takes 8 minutes for 55 million gallons of water to fill their chambers, which is accessed via the natural, freshwater Lake Gatun.
A new lock is scheduled for opening in 2014 to accomodate Panamax ships ( Ships of today that are built too big to traverse the two lane canal).
280 million tonnes of cargo by 14,000 vessels travel the canal every year, with 922,000 vessels having passed through the canal since it's opening in 1914.
See the canal in action on live webcam www.acp.gob.pa/eng/photo/camera-java.html
VISIT SOME OF PANAMA'S WEBSITES;
Image courtesy of Stan Shebs, wikimedia commons.
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