PANAMA CITY – An expanded Panama Canal is expected to finally be up and running in April 2016, after months of delays and cost overruns, an official overseeing the project told AFP.

Grupo Unidos Por el Canal (GUPC) is carrying out the extensive upgrade to the canal's system of locks, to allow the waterway to accommodate ships carrying up to 14,000 containers of freight -- triple the current size.

GUPC now says final testing on 16 new locks will begin in June, and that finishing touches on the construction work would be complete by January next year, Canal Administrator Jorge Quijano told AFP.

GUPC includes an Italian, Belgian, Spanish and Panamanian company.

Upgrades began in 2007 and were scheduled to be completed in 2014 for the 100th anniversary of the canal, but the work has seen repeated delays.

Initially projected to cost $5.25 billion, the project was reported in January to have incurred an extra $2.39 billion in overruns.

GUPC has begun arbitration to determine who will pay the extra costs.

About 5% of global maritime trade passes through the Panama Canal, whose main users are the United States and China.

Nicaragua last year launched construction of an ambitious $50 billion rival canal, which could handle even larger ships that it hopes to complete within five years.

Copyright Agence France-Presse, 2015