ATHENS, June 12, 2016 (Xinhua) -- (from L to R) China COSCO Shipping's subsidiary Piraeus Container Terminal (PCT) CEO Fu Chengqiu, captain of COSCO SHIPPING PANAMA Jude Sebastian Rodrigues, Panama Canal Administrator Jorge Luis Quijano and Vice President of COSCO Container Lines Europe Weng Lin pose for a photo at Piraeus port, Greece, June 11, 2016. COSCO SHIPPING PANAMA, the vessel that was selected to make the first historic transit through the expanded Panama Canal later this June, berthed at Piraeus port and left Greece on Saturday with the best wishes of Panama Canal Authority officials and China COSCO Shipping Corporation Limited top managers for the landmark sail. (Xinhua/Marios Lolos)
by Maria Spiliopoulou
ATHENS, June 11 (Xinhua) -- COSCO SHIPPING PANAMA, the vessel that was selected to make the first historic transit through the expanded Panama Canal later this June, berthed at Piraeus port and left Greece on Saturday with the best wishes of Panama Canal Authority officials and China COSCO Shipping Corporation Limited top managers for the landmark sail.
On June 26 the China COSCO Shipping Corporation Limited operated ship which is owned by American-based MC-Seamax and chartered to COSCO SHIPPING Lines, will be the first and only "Neopanamax" vessel that will go through the new lock at the Panama Canal.
The 299.99-meter-long container vessel with a carrying capacity of 9,443 TEUs will be recorded into the international shipping history during a ceremony attended by heads of states and major maritime stakeholders that will mark the conclusion of a nine- year project.
On Saturday during a reception and tour on the vessel at the premises of China COSCO Shipping's subsidiary Piraeus Container Terminal (PCT) at Greece's largest port, the Indian captain of the vessel, Jude Sebastian Rodrigues, Weng Lin, Vice President of COSCO Container Lines Europe and Panama Canal Administrator Jorge Luis Quijano briefed Xinhua and local media on the ship's history and operations, its milestone passage and the significance for Panama, COSCO and the global shipping industry.
The Marshall Islands-flagged vessel was built in the Hyundai Samho Shipyard in South Korea and delivered on Jan. 15, 2016. Currently, it is in service in the route from the Far East to the Black Sea with a 22-member crew.
Currently, the ship is in service in the route from the Far East to the Black Sea. In this special historic voyage, the COSCO SHIPPING PANAMA set out from Dalian Port on April 23, and it is expected to arrive in Shanghai on Aug. 6. From Piraeus, it sails directly to Panama to pass through the canal within about 12 hours and then stop at South Korea before reaching Shanghai.
"It is a great honor for me to be Captain of the COSCO SHIPPING PANAMA. Having the vessel selected to make the first transit across the Canal is an honor not only for the vessel and its crew, but also for COSCO SHIPPING and all its employees working on board and at sea," Captain Rodrigues said.
"The inauguration of the Canal in itself is a significant event and marks a milestone in the development of the global shipping industry. We are full of excitement and expectation for this ceremony, feeling glorious about being able to have the opportunity witnessing this historic event," he stressed.
The captain also noted that as one of the most important shipping passages in the world, the Panama Canal plays an important role in the development of global trade and its expansion reflects the industry's efforts to follow the trend of mega ships against the background of globalization by upgrading global maritime infrastructure.
Speaking to Xinhua during Saturday's event, Panama Canal Administrator Jorge Luis Quijano hailed the completion of the major project as the start of a new era for Panama and the global shipping industry and trade, as it provides to all sides a great opportunity for further growth.
"We believe it is an opportunity for Panama to grow further. The canal had reached its point of almost no further go unless we expanded it. Now we can almost double the capacity of the canal with this new system that we have installed," he explained.
"I think the opportunity we offer to the shipping community is that now we are able to offer a new product that means you can have a different packaging, you can bring a big vessel instead of a Panamax which is 4,000 TEU, you can go all the way to 14,000 TEU vessels," he stressed.
There is already big interest in transits through the new locks, he said. The Panama Canal Administration has already received bookings for the next 90 days for at least 120 transits and most ships are containers of more than 8,000 TEUs.
Regarding the selection process for the first historic passage on June 26, Quijano said that the "ship was selected by itself." The COSCO SHIPPING PANAMA was a vessel that was meeting all criteria set by the Authority when they informed their top 16 customers on the inauguration ceremony. COSCO is one of the canal's top ten customers.
Weng told Xinhua that PCT is a major part in the "Belt and Road" initiative and COSCO SHIPPING PANAMA's sailing from PCT for the expanded Panama Canal inauguration marks a major step for the company to explore further the global shipping market.
COSCO SHIPPING PANAMA is the first vessel with the logo of "COSCO SHIPPING" after the establishment of China COSCO Shipping Corporation Limited through the merger and restructuring of COSCO Group and China Shipping Group on Feb. 18, 2016.
For COSCO Shipping the expansion and upgrade of Panama Canal will also support the company in expanding its global business and improving its overall customer service.