It is about 80 km long and ships are lifted 26 meters in three lockages (Miraflores locks, Pedro Miguel locks and Gatun locks) as they cross the isthmus.
The journey across the canal takes about 8 to 10 hours although a ship is normally in canal waters between 24 to 30 hours.
This vessel comes from Japan and brings 5000 cars
The container and cruise ships squeeze through the locks with only centimeters to spare on either side. These are known as “Panamax ships”. However many ships are too big for the canal - they are called “Post Panamax”. To ensure they can cross the canal, in 2006, the people of Panama approved the expansion of Panama Canal by means of a referendum. The Panama Canal Administration is now building wider and deeper locks, which will be completed soon, in 2016.
The French started to build a canal in 1880 under supervision of Ferdinand de Lesseps, the builder of the Suez canal, but after years of struggle with the jungle, disease ( malaria and yellow fever became the worst killers) and financial problems, they were forced to give up.
In 1903 Panama declared its independence from Colombia and the USA signed a treaty in which the concession for a public maritime transportation service across the isthmus was granted.
The first vessel to officially cross the canal was the freighter ANCON on 15th August 1914.
In 1979 a new treaty between Panama and the USA established a transition period of twenty years for the definite handover of the canal to Panama. Since that time (31st December 1999) the canal has belonged to the Panamanians.