The Panama Canal, which is in the midst of a massive expansion, will likely get a new upgrade within 25 years to meet increasing capacity demands, its administrator said Tuesday.
The canal, one of the greatest feats of 20th-century engineering, celebrated 100 years of operations last month, but is facing increasing competition from the larger Suez Canal in Egypt and the threat of a massive new Chinese-built canal being planned in Nicaragua.
The current $5.3-billion expansion, which will add a third set of locks to the canal, is running a year behind schedule after getting bogged down in a dispute between the government and builders over $1.6 billion in cost overruns.
Administrator Jorge Quijano indicated a new expansion would be needed soon.
"In 25 years I'm sure the fourth set of locks will be built," he told journalists at a ceremony to bury a time capsule with objects related to the current expansion project, to be dug up in 25 years' time.
But he declined to discuss exactly when a new upgrade would be needed or how much demand was expected to grow.
The new upgrade will enable the canal to handle ships carrying up to 14,000 containers, triple the current capacity.
It is now expected to open in 2016.
Quijano said the upgrade would enable Panama, which depends on the canal for $1 billion a year in revenue, to win back global shipping companies that have opted for the Suez in recent years.
"We are confident that the new fees we'll be publishing, possibly for the end of this year or early next, will have the necessary incentives to enable us to get back those clients," he said.