Newly expanded Panama Canal set to be inaugurated on June 26, officials say

A view of Panama Canal expansion project on Friday, March 18, 2016.

A view of Panama Canal expansion project on Friday, March 18, 2016.  (ap)

Better late than never.

Originally scheduled to be concluded in October 2014, the newly expanded Panama Canal will be inaugurated on June 26, Panama announced on Wednesday.

The canal, which links the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, underwent an extensive renovation to allow modern, larger cargo ships through its locks.

But the $5.2 billion face-lift was plagued by a string of work stoppages and disputes with the Italian conglomerate behind the expansion — the date of the inauguration has been pushed back on several occasions due to repairs, strikes and contractual disputes between the Panama Canal Authority and the consortium.

The project includes wider locks with mechanical gates that will reduce congestion and be able accommodate post-Panamax vessels, which are as long as three football fields and have the capacity to carry about 2.5 times the number of containers held by ships currently using the canal.

International shipping had literally outgrown the Panama Canal. The term "Panamax" derived from the maximum size of ships that could pass through the canal. Post-Panamax vessels transport some 45 percent of the world's cargo.

President Juan Carlos Varela's administration made the announcement Wednesday.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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