The Panama Canal
05 April 2010 | Panama
The Panama Canal is a 77 km (48 mile) ship canal that joins the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific ocean and is a key conduit for international maritime trade. Annual traffic has risen from about 1,000 ships in the canal's early days to 14,702 vessels in 2008.
One of the largest and most difficult engineering projects ever undertaken, the canal had an enormous impact on shipping between the two oceans, replacing the long and treacherous route via the Drake Passage and Cape Horn at the southernmost tip of South America. A ship sailing from New York to San Francisco via the canal travels 9,500 km (6,000 miles), well under half the 22,500 km (14,000 miles) route around Cape Horn.
The concept of a canal near Panama dates to the early 16th century. The first attempt to construct a canal began in 1880 under French leadership, but was abandoned after 21,900 workers died, largely from disease (particularly malaria and yellow fever) and landslides. The United States launched a second effort, incurring a further 5,600 deaths but succeeding in opening the canal in 1914. The US controlled the canal and the Canal Zone surrounding it until the 1977 Torrijos-Carter Treaties provided for the transition of control to Panama. From 1979 to 1999 the canal was under joint US-Panamanian administration, and from 31 December 1999 command of the waterway was assumed by the Panama Canal Authority, an agency of the Panamanian government.