The Canal de Panama has announced that the work on the Panama Canal expansion project is now 85% complete and the plans are that the new, expanded Canal will be in operation by April 2016. One of the major projects yet to be completed is the access channel between Gatun Lake and the Pacific Locks. Ships exiting the Pacific Locks will be 85 feet above sea level, the level of Gatun Lake, while ships “next door” exiting Miraflores Locks and traveling through Miraflores Lake to Pedro Miguel Lock will be 54 feet above sea level.
As work on the present expansion moves toward completion, the Panama Canal is already starting to plan for yet another expansion!
Jorge Quijano, who heads the Canal de Panama, is already looking to yet another expansion, adding an additional set of locks to accommodate ships that can carry 20,000 containers.
“Looking at our geology and the experience we gained with this current expansion, we estimate it’s a project that could cost between $16 billion and $17 billion,” Quijano told Reuters, allowing Panama to better complete with an expanded Suez Canal. Such a project would take 15 years and would be financed by bonds and the Canal’s retained earnings.
China Harbor Engineering Company Ltd (CHEC), a subsidiary of state-owned China Communications Construction Co Ltd , has voiced interest in building and financing a fourth set of locks in Panama. The Chinese are also involved in a project to build a canal across Nicaragua, which may, or may not ever actually happen. There have been continual proposals for a Nicaraguan Canal. The current project, which amounted to a Presidential giveaway of a swath across Nicaragua by Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega, a swath of land similar to what the US had with the Panama Canal Zone, has many doubters. With cost estimates of $40 to $70 Billion US, many question not only the numbers, but if the money is actually available. There are serious ecological concerns without any real impact studies having been completed, and, most importantly, there is widespread opposition in Nicargaura to the plan.
It may be that the end goal of proponents of the Nicaraguan Canal isn’t necessarily a Canal, but control of a valuable swath of Nicaraguan real estate suitable for development to accommodate China’s burgeoning tourist demand offering opportunity for hotel and resort development and a string of golf courses and high rise resorts across Nicaragua, all of which may have just as much positive economic impact as a Nicaragua canal. Panama has an economic and logistics infrastructure that has been over 100 years in the creation, and it is questionable if Nicaragua could compete.
Major cruise lines are stumbling over one another to enter the Chinese market. Carnival has made a major alliance with the state-owned tourist department in China. Interestingly China is also involved in a study of Puerto Armulles in Panama which includes expanding and renovating the existing deep water port making it very attractive for Chinese cruise ships as well as building a dry canal for shipping containers across Panama.