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In 1668, the English physician and philosopher Sir Thomas Browne speculated in his encyclopedic work, Pseudodoxia Epidemica, that \"some Isthmus have been eaten through by the Sea, and others cut by the spade: And if the policy would permit, that of Panama in America were most worthy the attempt: it being but few miles over, and would open a shorter cut unto the East Indies and China\".
On November 2, 1903, US warships blocked sea lanes against possible Colombian troop movements en route to put down the Panama rebellion. Panama declared independence on November 3, 1903. The United States quickly recognized the new nation. This happened so quickly that by the time the Colombian government in Bogotá launched a response to the Panamanian uprising US troops had already entered the rebelling province. It should also be stated that the Colombian troops dispatched to Panama were hastily assembled conscripts with little training. While these conscripts may have been able to defeat the Panamanian rebels, they would not have been able to defeat the US army troops that were supporting the Panamanian rebels. The reason an army of conscripts was sent was that it was the best response the Colombians could muster, as Colombia still was recovering from a civil war between Liberals and Conservatives from October, 1899 to November, 1902 known as the \"Thousand Days War\". With the US being fully aware of these conditions and even incorporating them into the planning of the Panama intervention as the US acted as an arbitrator between the two sides; with the peace treaty that ended the \"Thousand Days War\" being signed on the USS Wisconsin on November 21, 1902. While in port the US also brought engineering teams to Panama, with the peace delegation, to begin planning for the canal's construction before the US had even gained the rights to build the canal. All these factors would result in the Colombians being unable to put down the Panamanian rebellion and expel the United States troops occupying what today is the independent nation of Panama.
Gatun Lake also provides drinking water for Panama City and Colón. Fishing is one of the primary recreational pursuits on Gatun Lake. Non-native peacock bass were introduced by accident to Gatun Lake around 1967 by a local businessman, and have since flourished to become the dominant angling game fish in Gatun Lake. Locally called Sargento and believed to be the species Cichla pleiozona, these peacock bass originate from the Amazon, Rio Negro, and Orinoco river basins, where they are considered a premier game fish.
Initially the locks at Gatun were designed to be 28.5 m (94 ft) wide. In 1908, the United States Navy requested that an increased width of at least 36 m (118 ft) to allow the passage of US naval ships. Eventually a compromise was made and the locks were built 33.53 m (110.0 ft) wide. Each lock is 320 m (1,050 ft) long, with the walls ranging in thickness from 15 m (49 ft) at the base to 3 m (9.8 ft) at the top. The central wall between the parallel locks at Gatun is 18 m (59 ft) thick and over 24 m (79 ft) high. The steel lock gates measure an average of 2 m (6.6 ft) thick, 19.5 m (64 ft) wide, and 20 m (66 ft) high. Panama Canal pilots were initially unprepared to handle the significant flight deck overhang of aircraft carriers. USS Saratoga knocked over all the adjacent concrete lamp posts while passing through the Gatun Locks for the first time in 1928. It is the size of the locks, specifically the Pedro Miguel Locks, along with the height of the Bridge of the Americas at Balboa, that determine the Panamax metric and limit the size of ships that may use the canal.
Passenger vessels in excess of 30,000 tons (PC/UMS) pay a rate based on the number of berths, that is, the number of passengers that can be accommodated in permanent beds. The per-berth charge since April 1, 2016 is $111 for unoccupied berths and $138 for occupied berths in the Panamax locks. Started in 2007, this fee has greatly increased the tolls for such ships. Passenger vessels of less than 30,000 tons or less than 33 tons per passenger are charged according to the same per-ton schedule as are freighters. Almost all major cruise ships have more than 33 tons per passenger; the rule of thumb for cruise line comfort is generally given as a minimum of 40 tons per passenger.
The most expensive regular toll for canal passage to date was charged on April 14, 2010, to the cruise ship Norwegian Pearl, which paid US$375,600. The average toll is around US$54,000. The highest fee for priority passage charged through the Transit Slot Auction System was US$220,300, paid on August 24, 2006, by the Panamax tanker Erikoussa, bypassing a 90-ship queue waiting for the end of maintenance work on the Gatun Locks, and thus avoiding a seven-day delay. The normal fee would have been just US$13,430.
Opponents to the 1977 Torrijos-Carter Treaties feared that efficiency and maintenance would suffer following the US withdrawal from the Panama Canal Zone; however, this has been proven not to be the case. Capitalizing on practices developed during the American administration, canal operations are improving under Panamanian control. Canal Waters Time (CWT), the average time it takes a vessel to navigate the canal, including waiting time, is a key measure of efficiency; according to the ACP, since 2000, it has ranged between 20 and 30 hours. The accident rate has also not changed appreciably in the past decade, varying between 10 and 30 accidents each year from about 14,000 total annual transits. An official accident is one in which a formal investigation is requested and conducted.
Increasing volumes of imports from Asia, which previously landed on US West Coast ports, are now passing through the canal to the American East Coast. The total number of ocean-going transits increased from 11,725 in 2003 to 13,233 in 2007, falling to 12,855 in 2009. (The canal's fiscal year runs from October through September.) This has been coupled with a steady rise in average ship size and in the numbers of Panamax vessels passing through the canal, so that the total tonnage carried rose from 227.9 million PC/UMS tons in fiscal year 1999 to a then record high of 312.9 million tons in 2007, and falling to 299.1 million tons in 2009. Tonnage for fiscal 2013, 2014 and 2015 was 320.6, 326.8 and 340.8 million PC/UMS tons carried on 13,660, 13,481 and 13,874 transits respectively.In the first decade after the transfer to Panamanian control, the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) invested nearly US$1 billion in widening and modernizing the canal, with the aim of increasing capacity by 20 percent. The ACP cites a number of major improvements, including the widening and straightening of the Culebra Cut to reduce restrictions on passing vessels, the deepening of the navigational channel in Gatun Lake to reduce draft restrictions and improve water supply, and the deepening of the Atlantic and Pacific entrances to the canal. This is supported by new equipment, such as a new drill barge and suction dredger, and an increase of the tug boat fleet by 20 percent. In addition, improvements have been made to the canal's operating machinery, including an increased and improved tug locomotive fleet, the replacement of more than 16 km (10 mi) of locomotive track, and new lock machinery controls. Improvements have been made to the traffic management system to allow more efficient control over ships in the canal.
The canal faces increasing competition from other quarters. Because canal tolls have risen as ships have become larger, some critics have suggested that the Suez Canal is now a viable alternative for cargo en route from Asia to the US East Coast. The Panama Canal, however, continues to serve more than 144 of the world's trade routes and the majority of canal traffic comes from the \"all-water route\" from Asia to the US East and Gulf Coasts.
The estimated cost of the project is US$5.25 billion. The project was designed to allow for an anticipated growth in traffic from 280 million PC/UMS tons in 2005 to nearly 510 million PC/UMS tons in 2025. The expanded canal will have a maximum sustainable capacity of about 600 million PC/UMS tons per year. Tolls will continue to be calculated based on vessel tonn