Chinese freighter begins first voyage through expanded Panama Canal

A merchant ship sails along the Panama Canal, on May 11, 2016.

PANAMA - A huge Chinese container ship started making its way through the newly expanded Panama Canal on Sunday in the inaugural trip through the vital waterway.

Crowds of thousands gathered alongside the canal cheered as the vessel Cosco Shipping Panama began its journey, entering from the Atlantic en route to the Pacific in a trip due to take about eight hours.

The expanded canal will be able to handle a new class of ships that carry three times as much cargo as before.

"This is a great day, a day of national unity and a day for Panama," President Juan Carlos Varela said. "This is the route that unites the world, the Panama Canal."