First voyage through new Panama canal

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(BBC) A Chinese container ship has become the first vessel to sail into the newly expanded Panama Canal.

Thousands gathered today as the ship, called Cosco Shipping Panama, entered from the Atlantic en route to the Pacific.

ship approaches new Agua Clara locks, part of the Panama Canal expansion project,

Panama hopes to increase revenues it gets from shipping fees (AP photo)

Construction on the new lane for the canal, which runs for 77km (48 miles), began in 2007 and was due to finish in 2014. But strikes and disputes over costs delayed the US$5.2bn (£3.8bn) project.

Spectators watch as the ship sails along the canal

Thousands gathered to watch the inaugural voyage(AP photo)

The original Panama Canal was first used in August 1914. It was built by the US and handed over to local control in 1999. The expansion allows a new, much-larger generation of container ships to pass through the isthmus.

Some 35 to 40 vessels transit the waterway everyday. Panama hopes the expansion will increase the revenues it gets from the canal, reported to have been US$2.6 billion in 2015.

But the canal could face competition from a new passage in Nicaragua.

The controversial 278km (172 mile) scheme, being built by a Chinese firm, will be longer, deeper and wider than the Panama Canal. Its construction started in 2014 and it is estimated to cost US$50bn (£32bn).

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