The Panama Canal Authority said Thursday it will charter a post-Panamax vessel before the opening of the Canal's new, expanded entrance to train pilots and tugboat captains how to maneuver the bigger ships through the locks.
Construction delays and a dispute with the contractor in charge of building the new sets of locks on the Atlantic and Pacific sides of the Panama Canal have pushed the projected opening to commercial traffic until about March 2016.
Once construction is completed in late 2015, crews will test the locks operations and practice moving vessels through the facility for several months.
Two-thirds of the 280 Canal pilots have already undergone training at the Panama Canal's simulation center using post-Panamax model ships, the Canal authority said. The software has been updated to replicate the new locks and changes to the navigational channels to accommodate larger vessels.
Many of the pilots have had experience maneuvering the vessels, which are currently too large to transit the Canal, in and out of ports located on both coasts of Panama. Some have also practiced at the Berendrecht Locks in the Port of Antwerp in Belgium.