According to a Reutres news report, ​Panama will know in a few months whether the long-awaited expansion of its famous shipping canal will meet the 2014 deadline for completion or face further delays.

The $5.3 billion (Dhs19 billion) canal overhaul — already about six months behind schedule — will allow newer, bulkier container ships to pass through the canal’s locks and gates, speeding up greater loads of cargo between Europe and Asia.

The Panama Canal Authority, financially independent from the government, has set a completion date of October 2014. Delays in laying concrete may create the hold-up, he said.

The size and bulk of cargo vessels has increased over the years, leaving the canal’s locks, which raise and lower the water level to allow ships to pass through and go from ocean to ocean, inadequate for many of today’s freighters.

Delays in finishing the job come with penalties of up to $54 million while early completion would be rewarded with $50 million.

Construction is being handled by a consortium led by Spain’s Sacyr and Italy’s Impregilo as well as the Belgian company Jan de Nul and Panama’s Constructora Urbana.

Expansion of the 80km canal will help boost economic growth in Panama, as the government will bring in more revenue from heavier traffic of commodities and other bulky goods.

Originally built nearly a century ago, the canal claimed the lives of tens of thousands of poor workers, most of whom died of malaria and other tropical diseases, as they hacked through dense jungle linking the Atlantic Ocean with the Pacific.

The canal, which took a decade to complete, was under US control until Panama took it over in 1999.

Traffic through the canal — a 13-hour stretch — has recovered since the 2008 global financial crisis that curtailed cargo shipping as the world economy slumped. Cargo volume reached a record 322 million tonnes in 2011.

This year it will see a volume of around 330 million tonnes.