The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) has awarded a $177.5- million dredging contract to a Belgium firm to widen and deepen the Pacific entrance to the canal as part of the $5.25-billion expansion of the waterway.

ACP awarded the contract to Dredging International N.V., based in Zwijndrecht, near Antwerp. The award is “is a critical next step in the creation of the new lanes,” says Jorge Quijano, ACP executive vice president for engineering and program management.

ACP says the order to proceed will be issued in the next few days. Work on the Pacific entrance should start by the end of the year and will take four years.

The canal expansion is expected to double the capacity of the waterway by the time it is completed in 2014. The dredging of the Pacific sea entrance is critical to the project since it will allow sufficient draft and width for the longer, wider ships the new locks are being designed to accommodate.

The nine-mile-long navigation channel beyond the Pacific entrance of the waterway will be widened to a minimum of 715 ft and deepened to 51 ft below the mean low-water mark. The contract also includes creating a south access to the new locks at roughly the same dimensions.

"The award is a critical next step in the creation of the new lanes."


Three firms participated in the bidding, which concluded on March 19. The Netherland’s Boskalis International BV bid $259 million and a joint venture of Belgium’s Jan De Nul N.V and the Netherland’s Van Oord Dredging and Marine Contractors BV bid $485 million.

ACP officials said they made a thorough review of the lowestpriced proposal before awarding it. Dredging International’s major projects include a $383-million effort to dredge 45.2 million cum in France’s Port du Havre.

The Panama Canal expansion will also include dredging 14 million cum of material at the Atlantic entrance. ACP officials estimate the cost at $70 million and expect to put it out to bid in early 2009.

The entire expansion will include the dredging and excavation of more than 50 million cu m of material, more than half of which ACP will do itself. It is in the process of upgrading its dredge fleet. Earlier this month, ACP announced it had contracted IHC Beaver Dredgers B.V of Holland to construct a new $96-million cutter-suction dredge for its fleet.

The expansion project is being overseen by Denver-based CH2M Hill, which was named project manager in August.