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Meet Ilya Espino de Marotta of Panama Canal Authority

Today we’d like to introduce you to Ilya Espino de Marotta.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Ilya Espino. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
My story starts as a girl who loved the ocean, and through time became the chief engineer who led the Panama Canal Expansion Program to completion.

I have always had a love for the ocean, and since my younger years was a fan of Jacques Cousteau a French diver who opened my eyes to the beauty underneath of the oceans.

I started scuba diving at the age of 16, once a graduated from High school I was awarded a scholarship to study Marine Biology in Pennsylvania, USA.

After a year and a half into the career, looking at job opportunities in Panama, it became apparent the panorama was not very promising. I decided to switch careers and moved to Texas, where I enrolled in Oceanography.

Soon I realized that I had no future in this field back in my country; since I was a good at physics and math, and my desire was to be near the ocean I opted to study Marine Engineering.

We were only two girls in the career at the time, so being that most of my peers were men, I did learned from them skills I did not have as welding and machine shop, and I helped them study the areas that were relatively easier for me.

Once I graduated and returned to Panama, I got my first job in the ship repair facility in the Panama Canal Commission. It was a great job, as I did design work in an office setting within the shipyard and had the opportunity to walk to the shops to see my designs become a reality.

There were not many women in engineering at the Canal at the time. I applied to different jobs along my 33 years in the Canal, and always replaced a man. I worked in Dredging, mechanical engineering, as a valuation engineer, capital program Coordinator for Operations, among others.

Through my carrier I got a Master Degree in Engineering Economics Panama and took two managerial development programs one in INCAE in Nicaragua a one in Kellogg School of Management in Illinois.

In 2002 I was invited to participate as part of the team that worked in the Development of the Master Plan of the Panama Canal, which was the analysis to evaluate the feasibility of building a Third set of Locks.

In 2007 once the Expansion Program was approved I was assigned as the Executive Manager of Resource Planning and Project Controls, and in 2012 I was appointed as Executive Vice-president of Engineering and Program Management and as such to lead the execution of the Panama Canal Expansion Program.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
It has been a relatively smooth road in a sense that I had always had a huge support from my peers and my bosses along my career and my personal life.

There has been obstacles along the way, but it’s important to ask for help and be part of team, because it pays off a thousand times. Also networking and offering to help is key.

I have always been keen to learn from everybody and I like to get involved in different things, which had allowed me to grow professionally.

The biggest challenge I faced was in 2010 when my 17 year old son was diagnosed with Osteosarcoma and three months later my husband was also diagnosed also with cancer. I was able to pull through it all with the help of God, family and friends, and an awesome team in my office which allow me to dedicate my time that year of treatment to my child and my husband in New York. I have two other children who were 19th and 14th at the time and they were a huge support too.

Please tell us about Panama Canal Authority.
The Panama Canal is a key player in World Trade. We provide a reliable route for shipping, and with the new Expanded Canal we have provided economies of scale allowing new bigger vessels to transit through the new locks.

The Panama Canal was a federal agency of the United States of America until December 1999. After its transfer to the Republic of Panama we have proven to the world, that we not only running the Canal in an outstanding way but we embarked in a $5.2 billion dollar project to modernize it and keep up with world trade.

We have already transited over 4,000 neo Panamax vessels through the new locks.

If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
I believe we have done a very good job, I think is important to keep in with world changes, and technology, in this very globalized world it’s important to be abreast of changes, which are occurring faster each time, so you can adapt in time.

Contact Info:

  • Address: Panama Canal Authority, Panama Republic of Panama
  • Website:
  • Phone: +507-2761241
  • Email:

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