Panama President Juan Carlos Varela Rodríguez has announced that the Panama Canal expansion project is tentatively set to be complete ‘around the month of May’.

The project, also known as the Third Set of Locks Project, commenced in 2006. It involved raising the capacity of Gatun Lake and the construction of two new sets of locks to accommodate ships ferrying 14,000 containers of freight, tripling the size limit.

The expansion aims to improve navigational channels (dredging), water supply and create an access to the Pacific.

The completion of the project was initially planned to coincide with the 100-year anniversary of the existing Panama Canal.

However, the $5.25bn project faced several roadblocks as it was caught between a dispute among the state’s Panama Canal Authority (Autoridad del Canal de Panama, ACP) and the building contractor Grupo Unidos por el Canal (GUPC).

The dispute followed a budget overrun wherein the Dispute Adjudication Board had ordered ACP to pay GUPC $17m to cover the labour expenditure.

"Varela had urged the authorities to dissolve their differences and work towards the rapid progress of the project."

Varela had urged the authorities to dissolve their differences and work towards the rapid progress of the project.

He said: "With respect, I am calling on the contractors for the expansion project to hold dialogue with the Panama Canal Authority, to allow work to be completed, to leave legal disputes in the hands of the competent authorities and to avoid mediatised differences that in no way help the image of the contractors, the Canal Authority and the Republic of Panama."

Additionally, a large crack was detected in one of chambers of the new lock complexes in August, which was attributed to an insufficient steel reinforcement in the area while being subjected to stress from extreme condition testing.

GUPC and ACP have confirmed that the fixing of the crack will not delay the delivery of the project in time.

Image: A view of the Panama Canal expansion project. Photo: courtesy of Canal de Panamá.