A Chinese freighter has become the millionth vessel to cross the Panama Canal three years ahead of the waterway's 100th anniversary, the Canal authority said Monday. The vessel actually crossed the canal September 4 with a load of 40.000 tons of steel products from the Pacific to the Atlantic but the authority announced the news only Monday.
The ship 'Fortune Plum,' whose name foreshadowed its good luck, became the millionth vessel to cross the inter-oceanic canal since it was opened, the Panama Canal Authority said in a statement.
Work began a year ago to enlarge the canal by constructing a third set of locks to ensure that today's super-size container ships, cruise liners, and oil tankers—many of which are too wide for the canal—will be able to navigate the waterway in the future.
The cost of the work has been put at some 5.2 billion, and should be complete by August 2014, on time for the celebration of the century since the canal's inauguration.
Since 1914 a million ships have crossed the 80-kilometer canal, through which five percent of the world's trade crosses every year.
The third set of locks, parallel to the existing two, would accommodate massive vessels 366 meters in length, 49 meters wide, and with a 15-meter draft. The goal is to double the cargo transported from 300 to 600 million tons.
The canal was built between 1903 and 1914 and the US held control of the strategic waterway during 85 years until 2000.
The first ship that officially crossed the canal linking the two oceans was the steamer SS Ancon, on Aug. 15, 1914. Ancon and her sister ship Cristobal played a crucial role in building the canal, bringing workers and supplies, from New York to Panama.
On August 15, 1914 Ancon made the first official transit of the canal as part the opening ceremonies which were overshadowed by the start of WW I.
Her sister ship Cristobal had made the first unofficial transit on August 3, delivering a load of cement, while an old French crane boat Alexandre La Valley had crossed the canal from the Atlantic in stages during construction, finally reaching the Pacific on January 7.
Ancon was acquired by the United States Navy after the end of WW I and fitted out as USS Ancon, a troop transport to return US troops home.
The Panama Railroad Company replaced SS Ancon in 1938 with a second SS Ancon, a larger steam turbine cargo liner which later action as US Navy Transport USS Ancon in World War Two.
An average 14,000 ships now make use the Canal annually. The record stands for 1970 with 15.523 crossings which can be tracked to the apex of the Vietnam War.
However, the size of ships has skyrocketed from an average 4.832 tons back in 1955 to 23.227 tons in 2009.
The volume of traffic that goes through the Canal is about 300 million tons a year. The busiest year on record was in 2007, when 312 million tons of traffic made the transit.