Panama Canal Expansion Project Image c.o Canal de Panama

Connecting the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific, the Panama Canal is a 48-mile, man-made waterway that cuts across Isthmus of Panama.  The canal itself was first opened in 1914 and since then has become a key conduit for international maritime trade; however in recent years, the narrow passageway has proved inefficient in meeting the growing demand for cargo transport.

In 2006, then Panamanian President, Martin Torrijos, proposed the construction of a third set of locks, known as the Panama Canal Expansion Project.  Doubling the capacity of the Panama Canal, the project was finished and the expansion opened in July of this year.  In addition to increasing the number of ships that can travel between oceans by adding an additional lane of traffic, expanding the width and depth of navigational channels allows much larger ships, carrying twice the amount of cargo, to pass through. 

Ilya Espino de Marotta, executive vice president of the Panama Canal Expansion Project’s Engineering and Programme Management, recently met with Keshini Navaratnam, Director of the Queen Elizabeth Prize for Engineering, to discuss one of the most ambitious feats of modern civil engineering in the world.

Graduating from Texas A&M University in 1985, Marotta started out her career as a Marine Engineer on the canal, working in the shipyard where all of the repairs and maintenance to the floating equipment took place.  Over the next 27 years, Marotta explored every corner of the canal, working in a variety of departments, before being appointed to head up the expansion programme in 2007. She is the only woman to have held the top post in the Panama Canal’s 100-year history.

As executive vice president, Ilya is responsible for managing not only the physical expansion of the canal, but also overseeing investment projects, such as the construction of a new bridge on the Atlantic side of the Isthmus of Panama; maintenance, operation and construction contracts; and the purchase of goods and services.  Her role also takes her up in a helicopter once a month to direct a videography team and monitor the progress of the work underway on the canal.

In 2014, Marotta was awarded the prestigious ‘Outstanding Woman of the Year’ award by the Panamanian Association of Business Executives, and has been recognised by Forbes Magazine of Mexico in their list of the 50 most powerful women in Central America.

Speaking in a video alongside other leading engineers, Ilya discusses the feats of engineering that have taken her to the top. The full video will be released on 5th September.  Subscribe to our YouTube channel and follow us on Twitter to make sure you don’t miss out.

Image is courtesy of Canal de Panama press.