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Old September 7th, 2005, 04:33 PM   #1
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Panama Canal: Please Expand

Panama's tight squeeze
Toll revenue will be lost if the country doesn't spend US$10-billion to expand its canal

Rip Watson and Thomas Black
Bloomberg News
7 September 2005

On a hot, drizzly day in July, the Aegean Leader sailed through the Panama Canal, its 32-metre-wide hull barely clearing the waterway's locks.

The vessel, which carries Japanese vehicles to the U.S. East Coast, is the biggest its owner, Nippon Yusen K.K., sends through the canal linking the Pacific and the Gulf of Mexico.

Nippon Yusen and Wal-Mart Stores Inc. are among companies pressing Panama to enlarge the 91-year-old waterway to take bigger ships at a time when growing exports from Asia clog U.S. Pacific ports.

If the country balks at spending the US$10-billion needed to expand the canal, it will lose income as ships take alternative routes such as the Suez Canal to reach the Atlantic seaboard, says Asaf Ashar, a professor at the National Waterways Institute at the University of New Orleans.

"People will still use it, but it will have secondary status," Mr. Ashar says. He estimates that without expansion, annual toll revenue would fall 21%, or US$210-million, based on the year ended Sept. 30, 2004.

U.S. imports and exports account for about half the cargo transported through the 84-kilometre-long canal. China is the second-biggest user, and Japan is third, according to the canal authority.

Vessels that are too big for the waterway use other routes to travel between Asia and the U.S. East Coast. Some cross the Suez Canal and Mediterranean Sea to reach the Atlantic Ocean. Alternatively, goods are unloaded at West Coast ports and transported by road or rail across the United States.

Enlargement of the canal would take nine years to complete and involve the construction of a third channel, which means it needs to begin as soon as possible, says Robin Lanier, director of the Waterfront Coalition, a Washington trade group that represents U.S. retailers such as Bentonville, Ark.-based Wal-Mart on shipping issues.

Without expansion, increasing congestion at ports on the U.S. West Coast will slow growth of trade and add to companies' costs, he says. "U.S. economic prosperity depends on upgrading the canal. Immediate expansion should be a high priority."

Last year, congestion at the California ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach, which handle about 40% of containerized U.S. imports, diverted more than 115 incoming ships to other Pacific harbours, according to the Southern California Marine Exchange.

In Panama's jungle, Anibal Soto, who scratches a living growing corn and rice on the banks of the Rio Indio, says his land and thatch-roofed home would be flooded by a reservoir if a new channel is built. "This house will be 60 metres underwater," says Mr. Soto, whose home is five hours by road and river from Panama City.

A preliminary proposal that envisages feeding locks with water recycled from existing channels and new pools alongside the canal, instead of from reservoirs, would be unacceptable, says Fernando Manfredo, a former canal administrator. "These side pools can be complicated, because they may cause contamination of the water," he says. "They're going to have to build dams on the Trinidad and Indio rivers."

Francisco Miguez, the official in charge of drawing up expansion proposals, says no new reservoirs would be needed until 2025 at the earliest. "The possible impact has been blown out of proportion because people are scared," he says.

The authority expects to present an expansion plan to its board within a few months, Alberto Aleman, an administrator, said on Aug. 16. If the board approves the plan, it would have to be passed by congress before going to a national referendum.

Mr. Aleman didn't specify how much an enlargement would cost. Global Insight Inc., a Lexington, Mass.-based consulting company, calculates the expense at US$10-billion.

The cost of financing a third channel may be too much for the country of three million people to bear, says Jose Isabel Blandon, a congressman with the opposition Panamenista Party. "What concerns us is that the country's debt would rise far beyond its capacity to pay," he says.

At the end of July, Panama had US$7.2-billion of foreign debt. Standard & Poor's rates its government bonds BB, or two notches below investment grade.

While the canal authority, hasn't disclosed how it would fund an expansion, Claudia Calich, senior portfolio manager in New York for Invesco Inc. who manages US$500-million of emerging-market bonds including Panamanian debt, says it would probably use a mix of loans and bonds. The authority has no debt of its own. "If the canal expansion offers value, we would absolutely look at the deal," Ms. Calich says.

The authority hasn't said how much tolls, which were raised 60% in May, might rise if the expansion goes ahead. Global Insight estimates they would have to at least double to pay for the work.

The United States, which completed the canal in 1914, ceded the waterway to Panama in 1999. In the year ended Sept. 30, 2004, the canal had revenue of US$1.06-billion and produced royalties for the government of US$183.7-million.

The expense of shipping goods from Asia through the canal to the Gulf of Mexico is about 20% less than unloading at U.S. West Coast ports and transporting goods by train to consumers in cities such as Houston, according to calculations based on prices published by shipping and railroad companies.

"The more efficient the transportation is, the lower the cost will be," says William Wertz, a Wal-Mart, spokesman. Wal-Mart has built a 2.2-million-square-foot warehouse near Houston to handle shipments of toys, electronics and other consumer goods. "It is ultimately a benefit to consumers."

Shipping companies, buoyed by a 10% annual expansion in world trade, are increasing the size of their vessels, and most cargo carriers under construction will be too big to use the waterway, says Hans Moller, managing director in Panama for container shipping company Maersk SeaLand.

"Fifty-eight per cent of ships on order can't transit the canal," he says. Maersk SeaLand, a unit of Copenhagen-based A.P. Moeller-Maersk A/S, the world's biggest container- shipping company, already has 22 ships that are too big.

"The canal and the country will have to make a big decision," says Chris Koch, president of the World Shipping Council, a Washington-based trade association whose members include Maersk and Nippon Yusen. "If the canal chooses not to expand, trade will continue to flow, and go elsewhere."
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Old October 27th, 2005, 04:38 PM   #2
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Panama woos top operators

But government remains tight-lipped on terms and conditions for concessions ahead of first stage proposals, writes Rainbow Nelson

27 October 2005
Lloyd's List

THE Panamanian government is to meet with the world’s 10 largest container terminal operators next month to finalise details of the $600m first phase of a proposed “megaport”.

November’s meeting will act as the formal launch of the project, with only those container terminal operators handling more than 6m teu a year invited to the party.

The likes of Hutchison Port Holdings, PSA Corp, APM Terminals, Dubai Ports, P&O Ports, NYK and Cosco all qualify to participate in the project that will have an annual capacity of 2.4m teu in the first phase.

To attend, the operators need to express their interest in the project before November 18, the date scheduled for the meeting.

Still at an early stage, the full details of the project have not yet been finalised, according to a release from the President’s office.

“The terms and conditions for the future concession have not been defined yet because they will depend on the type of investment that interested operators would be willing to make,” said a government spokesman.

After the meeting in November, the government will begin a formal bidding process including all the technical, financial, environmental and operational terms and conditions of the concession.

The new greenfield container port, will be located on the west side of the Pacific entrance of the Panama Canal, in the Palo Seco/Farfan area, adjacent to the former Howard airforce base and area now designated a special economic area with tax exemptions for distribution companies.

Created under PL No. 41 of July, 2004, this special economic area is expected to have a similar impact as the Colon Free Trade Zone, building on Panama’s growing reputation as an international distribution centre for goods manufactured both locally and abroad.

In the project’s first phase, an area of 112 hectares is to be developed with 1,600 m of quay and 18 post-Panamax gantry cranes. The estimated cost of the first phase is around US$600m, based on studies carried out by consulting firm, Moffat & Nichol.

With a draft of 15 m, the project is designed for the latest generation of container vessels, which, it is hoped, will one day transit through an expanded Panama Canal.

Rogelio Orillac, ports director for the Panama Maritime Authority, and the person now heading up the ‘megaport’ project, said that there had already been strong interest from nearly all of the top 10 container terminal operators. Mr Orillac could not say whether any restrictions would be placed on the participation of companies with existing operations on the Pacific side of the Canal, namely Hutchison Port Holdings — which operates the only container terminal on the Pacific side — on the grounds of encouraging competition.

As Hutchison subsidiary, Panama Ports Company had not, to date, “expressed any interest”. Mr Orillac did not foresee this issue arising.

PPC has plans to invest $1bn in its facilities on the Atlantic and Pacific side of the Canal. Its facility in Balboa will be the one most directly affected by rival operators on the Pacific side of the Canal.

A spokesman at the Hutchison subsidiary refused to comment on whether it would be bidding for the new terminal.
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Old October 27th, 2005, 07:30 PM   #3
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The Panama Canal Expansion is a reality!!! Coming Soon 2006
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Old October 28th, 2005, 12:48 AM   #4
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I hope they expand it, but can the country afford it?
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Old October 28th, 2005, 06:31 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by effer
I hope they expand it, but can the country afford it?
It´s possible...The Panama Canal has it´s own resources that has nothing to do with the government cash!

We´re just waiting for the studies to be completed...
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Old October 28th, 2005, 01:36 PM   #6
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Good post!
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Old January 2nd, 2006, 03:16 AM   #7
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Panama Celebrates Six Years Of Canal Ownership
31 December 2005

PANAMA CITY, Panama (AP)--Panama celebrated the sixth anniversary of its ownership of the Panama Canal on Saturday, at a time when the country must decide how to finance the expansion of the Atlantic-Pacific waterway to accommodate larger ships.

"Panamanians are going to have an enormous decision ... given that we are almost done with the (expansion) studies," canal administrator Alberto Aleman Zubieta said.

The United States opened the canal in 1914 and turned it over to Panama on Dec. 31, 1999, amid doubts about the country's ability to manage it.

Those doubts dissipated as Panamanian operators reduced the number of ship accidents in the canal and increased revenues to more than $1 billion a year.

In the coming months, administrators plan to present a proposal to widen the canal, which must be approved in a public referendum. If approved, work could begin in 2007.

Ten percent of the world's ships currently cannot pass through the narrow waterway and operators say an expansion would help the canal remain one of the easiest shipping routes between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

The project is expected to take at least six years, and includes constructing new locks that would be 40% longer and 50% wider than the current locks on the 80-kilometer (50-mile) canal.

Francisco Miguez, who is coordinating the plan, said it would double the canal's capacity to 600 million metric tons (660 U.S. tons) of cargo each year.

"How much it will cost and how we will pay for it are points that we are fine-tuning and should have ready in the next few months," said Rodolfo Sabonge, the canal's director of corporate planning. In the past, officials suggested raising ship tolls and obtaining foreign financing to pay for the project.

Authorities have been cautious about calculating the expansion's cost, but estimates have ranged from $5 billion to $8 billion.

About 14,000 ships representing 5% of the world's trade pass through the canal each year.
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Old April 10th, 2006, 04:30 PM   #8
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Survey finds majority of Panamanians will vote to expand canal
9 April 2006

PANAMA CITY, Panama (AP) - More than 56 percent of Panamanians said they will vote for a multi-billion-dollar extension of the Panama Canal in a referendum later this year, according to a survey released Sunday.

Only 19 percent said they will vote against the expansion while 24 percent said they were undecided in the study by the polling company Dichter and Neira.

Panamanian President Martin Torrijos has promised to hold a referendum later this year on proposals to carry out the biggest modifications to the Panama Canal since it was opened in 1914.

The government has not said how much will be spent on the expansion. Independent analysts estimate the changes will cost between US$5 billion (euro4.1 billion)and US$8 billion (euro6.5 billion).

The survey was carried out with 1,200 people between March 31 and April 3. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.
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Old April 22nd, 2006, 06:00 PM   #9
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Some Panamanians in Way of Canal Expansion
21 April 2006

LAGARTERITA, Panama (AP) - A plan to expand locks in the Panama Canal so they can accommodate larger ships has Emerita Rodriguez worried her home may soon be underwater. Rodriguez lives with her husband and three children on a small island on Lake Gatun, a 160-square-mile man-made reservoir that supplies water for the canal.

President Martin Torrijos' government has said that no one will be forced from their homes if Panamanians approve a referendum later this year required for the expansion plan to go forward.

But Francisco Miguez, who is coordinating the canal expansion master plan, said the projects being studied include one that would raise Lake Gatun's water level. And recently officials from the Panama Canal Authority, which runs the waterway, met with Rodriguez and others living on the lake's islands and shores and warned them they may have to leave their homes.

"They told us that those of us living near the lake would have to seek higher ground," Rodriguez said.

The United States opened the canal in 1914 and turned it over to Panama on Dec. 31, 1999. About 14,000 ships representing 5 percent of the world's trade pass through the canal each year.

But 10 percent of the world's ships cannot pass through the narrow waterway and operators say an expansion of the locks would help the canal remain one of the fastest and easiest shipping routes between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.

If approved, the project is expected to take at least six years, and includes constructing new locks that would be 40 percent longer and 50 percent wider than the current ones on the 50-mile canal. Miguez has said it would double the canal's capacity to 660 tons of cargo each year.

The canal's series of locks raise and lower ships to and from sea level as they make their way across the isthmus. Larger locks would mean more water would be needed to fill them, which in turn, would cause the level of Lake Gatun to rise.

The government has not said how much will be spent on the expansion, although independent analysts estimate it will cost between $5 billion and $8 billion. Officials have said, however, that Panama will finance the project through higher rates charged to canal users, rather than taking on debt.

The plan seems to have broad support among the public. According to a poll released earlier this month, more than 56 percent of Panamanians said they will vote for the expansion in the referendum, while only 19 percent said they were opposed. The rest were undecided.

The survey questioned 1,200 people between March 31 and April 3. It had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

The expansion plan does not include building new dams or flooding areas, a relief to the estimated 186,000 people living in the Panama Canal basin, a 1.4 million-acre area viewed as vital to the canal's ecosystem.

But that hasn't stopped Rodriguez and thousands of others living around the lake from worrying about what will become of the their homes and land.

"The project is worthwhile because bigger boats are going to be able to get through," said Orlando Fernandez, 27, a local fisherman. "But they shouldn't affect third parties."
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Old April 24th, 2006, 03:01 PM   #10
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Its time for an expansion.
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Old April 25th, 2006, 05:48 AM   #11
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Panama unveils $5.25 billion Plan for Canal expansion


The long-awaited an-nouncement, which has been delayed by controversy over the country's public finances, was expected to be made at a public meeting addressed by President Martín Torrijos, Ricaurte Vás-quez, economy minister and chairman of the Panama Canal Authority, and Alberto Alemán Zubieta, its chief executive.

The plans, drawn up by the canal authority, will now be passed to the president and will then be voted on by the Panamanian legislature before a public referendum that will be required for final approval.

Mr Alemán Zubieta told the Financial Times the announcement would make it an important day for Panama and the world maritime industry.

The 82km-long canal, which links the Pacific and Atlantic oceans, needs to expand because its locks, which were large enough to accommodate every ship afloat in 1914 when the canal opened, are now too small for many of the world's largest container ships.

Almost all the canal's capacity is used after a boom in demand for services linking Asia with the US east and Gulf coasts. In recent weeks, scores of ships have been queuing at either end of the canal, waiting for a passage because so few slots are available.

Mr Alemán Zubieta said the plan that had been decided on would involve construction of a third lane of locks alongside the two parallel lanes of existing locks at Miraflores, Pedro Miguel and Gatun on the canal.

Each new lock would measure 1,400 feet by 180 feet with a draft of 50 feet - a size that would accommodate container ships carrying up to about 12,000 20-foot equivalent units (TEUs), against a current maximum for the canal of about 5,000 TEUs. The largest container ships now afloat carry about 10,000 TEUs.

"This will create a lot of opportunities for the maritime industry and will create a lot of opportunities to change the mode that trade is moved in the future," Mr Alemán Zubieta said.

The planned expansion would cost $5.25bn (€4.3bn, £2.9bn), the administrator said and, if work started next year, it could be completed by about 2014.

Mr Alemán Zubieta said the expansion would be paid for through canal tolls, although at the peak of the work a bridging loan would be required because not all the money could be raised from users before the expansion.

He said he expected Panamanian citizens to back expansion, which has been controversial, because the canal was Panama's most important resource.

Tolls for container ships using the canal have increased sharply over the past year, while a $500m social fund for Panamanian citizens, backed by canal revenues, has been set up as the authorities have sought to increase support for expansion.


Sources: http://today.reuters.com/news/articl...NAMA-CANAL.xml

http://today.reuters.com/news/articl...NAMA-CANAL.xml

http://www.localnewsleader.com/elyti...news&id=180945

http://english.aljazeera.net/NR/exer...1E5A59ABC3.htm
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Old June 27th, 2006, 05:50 PM   #12
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Panama Pres' Bill Calls For Referendum On Future Of Canal
26 June 2006

PANAMA CITY, Panama (AP)--Panamanian President Martin Torrijos on Monday sent the National Assembly a bill calling for a referendum asking citizens whether the government should undertake the biggest modifications to the Panama Canal since it was opened in 1914.

If the National Assembly approves the bill, it will set a date for the referendum, leaving a period of at least 90 days for citizens to debate the proposal.

Torrijos' Democratic Revolution Party dominates the chamber, and lawmakers have signaled the bill will pass easily.

The presidential project calls for a construction of a third set of locks on the canal that would reduce long lines of ships trying to cross the canal and allow larger ships to pass through. It is projected to cost $5.25 billion in a country whose annual budget is $6.5 billion.

Torrijos says the expansion is necessary to keep the canal competitive in the 21st century.

"It is a great opportunity for Panamanians to make a gigantic leap toward progress," he said Monday.

The canal, 32 meters (105 feet) above sea level at its highest point, uses a series of parallel locks to lift ships to Lake Gatun for the transoceanic passage.

So-called Panamax ships carrying 4,000 containers can now just barely fit through the canal's 33-meter (108-foot) locks. The new third set would be 54 meters (177 feet) wide and be able to accommodate Post-Panamax ships that can carry twice as many containers.

Opponents of the proposed canal expansion contend the project is risky because it is based on uncertain projections about maritime trade and the world economy.

Recent polls indicate that a majority of Panamanians favor the expansion.

The cost of the construction would be financed through raising canal fees and bank loans without risking government social programs, according to the government.

The Torrijos government also is counting on an economic windfall that would come from an estimated 7,000 jobs during the five-year construction.

In 2005, Panama earned $1.2 billion in canal fees, maintenance and other related services levied on some 13,000 ship crossings.

The canal was first opened in August l914. More than 5,000 workers from more than 20 countries died during its construction, victims of disease and accidents.

Panama took over the administration of the waterway on December 31, 1999, the day the U.S. military presence in Panama ended. The United States is the main user of the canal, followed by the combined South American countries and China.
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Old June 28th, 2006, 05:14 PM   #13
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Panama Seeks $5.3B Project to Expand Canal
By KATHIA MARTINEZ
27 June 2006

PANAMA CITY, Panama (AP) - Panama's president sent lawmakers a bill Monday calling for a referendum on whether the government should undertake the biggest modifications to the Panama Canal since it was opened in 1914.

The project calls for a construction of a third set of locks on the canal that would reduce long lines of ships trying to cross the canal and allow larger ships to pass through. It is projected to cost $5.25 billion in a country whose annual budget is $6.5 billion.

President Martin Torrijos says the expansion is necessary to keep the canal competitive in the 21st century.

The canal, 105 feet above sea level at its highest point, uses a series of parallel locks to lift ships to Lake Gatun for the transoceanic passage.

So-called Panamax ships carrying 4,000 containers can now just barely fit through the canal's 108-foot locks. The new third set would be 177 feet wide and be able to accommodate post-Panamax ships that can carry twice as many containers.

Opponents of the proposed canal expansion contend the project is risky because it is based on uncertain projections about maritime trade and the world economy.

Recent polls indicate that a majority of Panamanians favor the expansion.

The cost of the construction would be financed through higher canal fees and bank loans without risking national social programs, according to the government. The Torrijos government also is counting on an economic windfall that would come from an estimated 7,000 jobs during the five-year construction.

In 2005, Panama earned $1.2 billion in canal fees, maintenance and other related services levied on some 13,000 ship crossings.

If the National Assembly approves the bill, it will set a date for the referendum, leaving a period of at least 90 days for citizens to debate the proposal. Torrijos' Democratic Revolution Party dominates the chamber, and lawmakers have signaled the bill will pass easily.

Panama took over the administration of the waterway on Dec. 31, 1999, when the U.S. military presence in Panama ended. The United States is the main user of the canal, followed by South American countries and China.
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Old July 16th, 2006, 05:22 AM   #14
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Panama sets canal expansion referendum for Oct. 22

PANAMA CITY, July 15 (Reuters) - Panama will hold a referendum on Oct. 22 on whether to expand the Panama Canal, which carries 4 percent of all world trade but is deemed too small for modern shipping needs.

Panama's national assembly on Friday night unanimously approved sending the proposed expansion, which entails building a third set of locks costing $5.25 billion, to a vote by the electorate.

The vote will take place on Oct. 22, a government official said.

The canal is a vital trade route for regional commodities producers and China's booming manufacturing industry.

The Panama Canal Authority, which operates the waterway, says the expansion will be paid for by a doubling in tolls over the next two decades and short-term debt of $2.3 billion.

The work, to allow bigger ships to sail between the Atlantic and Pacific, would start next year if approved by the public and be finished in 2014.

The canal was built by the United States, which ran it for much of the 20th century. It was handed over to Panama in 1999 following 1977 treaties brokered by President Jimmy Carter and Panamanian President Omar Torrijos, a populist dictator and father of current leader, Martin Torrijos.

The last opinion poll in May showed most Panamanians support the canal expansion.
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Old August 15th, 2006, 10:42 PM   #15
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Panama Canal maintenance to cause some ship delays

NEW YORK, Aug 14 (Reuters) - The flow of shipping traffic in the Panama Canal is expected to slow down over the next few weeks due to a temporary reduction in transit slots during maintenance on the waterway, ship agents said on Monday.

Over the weekend, the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) began its week-long maintenance work on the locks of the canal, a strategic waterway for oil and commodities cargoes between the Pacific and Atlantic Ocean.

This is the second time in two months ACP has cut the number of available transit slots to 19 from 23.

In mid-July, the backlog of vessels in transit grew to 57, sharply higher than the 40 seen in late June.

"We have been warned by ship agents that there should be increased delay over the next three to four weeks," said a source from a shipping company in Louisiana.

However, the traffic flow was smooth as of Monday, with only 33 vessels waiting to sail through the canal.

For ships sailing in either direction, the delay was pegged at about one day on Monday.

"If the vessel backlog rises to more than 50, we will have significant delays," another ship owner said.

In mid-July, Panamax vessels were delayed for two to four days, depending on the sailing direction.

The smooth sailing seen on Monday may not last too long, with one ship agent estimating the vessel backlog to rise to 43 by Wednesday.

The canal can typically accommodate about 36 vessels in one day.
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Old October 12th, 2006, 10:50 PM   #16
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Survey: 8 of 10 Panamanians favor canal expansion
11 October 2006

PANAMA CITY, Panama (AP) - Nearly 80 percent of Panamanians plan to vote for a proposal to expand the Panama Canal, according to a poll published Wednesday, the last day surveys can legally be reported ahead of a referendum.

On Oct. 22, Panamanians will decide on the US$5.25 billion (euro4.2 billion) proposal to add a third set of locks to the canal to accommodate larger container ships and reduce the long lines of ships waiting to cross. Opponents say the expansion is expensive for a poor nation and will be environmentally damaging.

The report published Wednesday in the Panamanian newspaper La Prensa said that 79 percent of respondents said they favor the proposal while 21 percent would vote against it. Pollster Dichter y Neira surveyed 2,092 people from Friday through Sunday. It had a margin of error of 2.5 percentage points.

Panama took over the administration of the waterway on Dec. 31, 1999, when the U.S. military presence in Panama ended. The United States is the main user of the canal, followed by South American countries, Japan and China.
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Old October 12th, 2006, 10:52 PM   #17
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Panama Canal sees 6.2-percent growth in freight traffic in fiscal year 2006
10 October 2006

PANAMA CITY, Panama (AP) - Freight traffic through the Panama Canal increased by 6.2 percent in terms of tonnage in the past 12 months, authorities reported on Tuesday.

From September 2005 to September 2006, freight shipped through the waterway totaled 296.3 million tons compared to the previous fiscal year, and the number of ships crossing grew by 1 percent, to 14,194.

Of those, 1,610 were the larger Panamax ships, whose number grew 22.9 percent from the previous year.

Ten accidents occurred in fiscal year 2006, compared to 12 in the prior one, the Canal Authority reported.

Panamanians will vote in an Oct. 22 referendum on a project to add a third set of locks to the canal to allow larger container ships to pass through the waterway and reduce the long lines of ships waiting to cross.

The Canal Authority has estimated the project will cost roughly US$5.25 billion (€4.2 billion).

Panama has controlled the canal since Dec. 31, 1999, when the U.S. military presence in Panama ended. Approximately 4 percent to 5 percent of the world's maritime trade crosses through the Panama Canal.
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Old October 23rd, 2006, 04:56 AM   #18
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Voters Approve Panama Canal Expansion
22 October 2006

PANAMA CITY, Panama (AP) - Voters overwhelmingly approved the largest modernization plan in the 92-year history of the Panama Canal on Sunday, backing a multi-billion dollar expansion that will allow the world's largest ships to squeeze through the shortcut between the seas.

About 78 percent of Panamanians voted in favor of expansion, with 90 percent of polling stations counted by the country's electoral tribunal. Only about 22 percent opposed the plan. Almost 57 percent of the country's more than 2.1 million voters did not turn out.

Thousands of supporters in green "Yes" T-shirts cast ballots endorsing the $5.25 billion overhaul which would allow the canal to handle modern container ships, cruise liners and tankers that are too large for its current 108-foot-wide locks. The plan is to build a third set of locks on the Pacific and Atlantic ends by 2015.

The Panama Canal Authority, the autonomous government agency that runs the canal, says the project will double capacity of a waterway already on pace to generate about $1.4 billion this year. Expansion will be paid for by increasing tolls and take in more than $6 billion annually in revenue by 2025.

A large chunk of canal revenues go to education and other Panamanian social programs. Still, critics contend that as drawn up, the expansion plan benefits the canal's customers more than Panamanians, and worry that costs could balloon for this debt-ridden country.

"Voting 'no' is like closing the door on the canal. It's the top source of income for Panama and improving it means more money for the government and less poverty," said Leonardo Aspira, a boat salesman who sported a "Yes" shirt and baseball hat in Kuna Nega, a largely Indian town of dirt roads and banana trees on the outskirts of Panama City.

The canal employs 8,000 workers and the expansion is expected to generate as many as 40,000 construction jobs. Unemployment in Panama is 9.5 percent, and 40 percent of the country lives in poverty.

Critics contend the expansion will benefit the canal's customers more than Panamanians, and fear it will stoke corruption and uncontrolled debt if costs balloon.

"The expansion is necessary, but we all have to watch closely, make sure there isn't embezzlement and corruption," said Igor Meneses, a 34-year-old advertising executive who was waiting to vote in Panama City. "With that kind of money, there's a lot to steal."

President Martin Torrijos, an outspoken supporter of expansion, called the referendum "probably the most important decision of this generation," after voting.

Opponents of the expansion plan complained about electoral foul play.

On the sweltering streets of Panama City, some wore red shirts and smocks supporting a 'No' vote. But they were far outnumbered by those in shirts, bandanas, caps and vests supporting expansion. Cars and trucks with "Yes" bumper stickers and flags jammed streets.

Former President Guillermo Endara, who dressed in red from head to toe to show his opposition to expansion, complained that polling place workers wore "Yes" clothing and handed out cards with directions on where and how to vote with propaganda supporting the plan printed on the opposite side.

"That's vote-buying," Endara said.

School buses and vans with "yes" signs stuck to the side were also seen whisking voters from poor, crowded neighborhoods to polling places to vote.

But polling place and transportation workers showing which side of the referendum they were on apparently did not constitute a violation of Panama's electoral laws.

The United States arranged for Panamanian independence from Colombia to build the canal, and ran the canal from 1914 to 1999. Torrijos' father, strongman Omar Torrijos, signed a treaty with President Carter in 1977 to cede control of the waterway back to Panama, a decision that also was approved by Panamanians in a referendum.
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Old October 24th, 2006, 05:10 AM   #19
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From: http://edition.cnn.com/2006/WORLD/am.../panama.canal/
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Voters approve $5 billion overhaul for Panama Canal
POSTED: 0234 GMT (1034 HKT), October 22, 2006

From CNN's Harris Whitbeck

PANAMA CITY, Panama (CNN) -- With most of the votes counted, about 80 percent of Panamanians appeared Sunday to have approved a $5 billion plan to widen the Panama Canal.

The expansion would accommodate a new generation of cargo ships, many originating in China, seeking a quick route between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.

More than 90 percent of the votes have been counted. Despite some reports of irregularities, international observers from the Organization for American States said the referendum went well.

The 51-mile, man-made ditch that links the oceans was a marvel of engineering when it was completed in 1914.

Proponents of the planned expansion say it will guarantee the canal's viability for future generations.

Construction of the expansion would begin almost immediately; the whole project is expected to take at least four years, with completion expected in time for the 100th anniversary of the canal's opening in 2014.

In recent days, Panama Canal administrator Alberto Aleman attempted to persuade his countrymen to approve the referendum "to maximize our most important asset, which is our geographical position."

Proponents of the expansion argued that the cost of widening the canal will be offset by a hike in transit fees.

However, opponents expressed doubt that the fees will cover the cost and worry Panamanians will end up paying the price.

Sunday's referendum marked the first time that Panamanians have decided the canal's future on their own.

In 1978, President Jimmy Carter signed a treaty that led to the transfer of the canal's ownership from the United States to Panama in 1999.

Another Central American country, Nicaragua, is considering building an $18 billion canal that would compete with Panama's.
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Old October 24th, 2006, 04:05 PM   #20
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Canal Project Could Lower Prices in U.S.
By WILL WEISSERT
23 October 2006

PANAMA CITY, Panama (AP) - The United States on Monday applauded Panama's overwhelming vote in favor of widening its canal, an eight-year project that will cost $5.25 billion and should lower prices for shoppers on the East Coast buying goods from Asia.

The massive project, which would add a third set of locks on the Atlantic and Pacific sides of the waterway, is expected to double the 50-mile canal's capacity, allowing container ships, cruise liners and gas tankers currently too wide for its dimensions to squeeze through.

"There will be an impact on the pocketbook," U.S. Ambassador William Eaton told reporters in Panama City. "The transit costs will be cheaper and that will have an effect on the market."

The United States, which built the waterway in the early 1900s and controlled it until 1999, had been mum on the expansion plan so as not to sway Sunday's referendum. But Eaton said Monday that Panamanians had made the right choice.

"This is important to the U.S. It's important to our economy," he said. "We welcome expansion."

While turnout was only about 43 percent of Panama's more than 2.1 million eligible voters, nearly eight in 10 voted in favor of expansion. Construction won't begin until 2007 and is expected to take up to eight years.

President Martin Torrijos, who staked his political future on the plan, said the project, the largest in the canal's 92-year history, would create 40,000 jobs in a country where 40 percent of people live poverty and were unemployment sits at 9.5 percent.

The Panama Canal Authority, the autonomous governmental agency which runs the waterway, will borrow $2.3 billion between 2009 and 2011 to help finance the expansion, but expects to pay for the entire project by gradually increasing tolls for ships that sail through it.

Marvin Castillo, director of Panama's Maritime Chamber, said "any increase in tolls will have to be spread widely enough through all sectors of the shipping industry so that users can prepare for it and it won't represent a major hit."

The canal is on pace to generate $1.4 billion in revenues this year, but could produce $6 billion in revenues per year by 2025.

A chunk of tolls paid on each ton of cargo that passes through the canal goes to the national treasury for education and other social programs.

About two-thirds of shipping traffic passing through the canal is headed to or coming back from the United States. That figure will likely get even higher after expansion is complete.

The biggest vessels now moving through the Panama Canal's 108-foot-wide locks are known as Panamax ships, carrying up to 4,000 containers. But 27 percent of the world's containerized shipping is hauled by vessels that can carry 8,000 containers but are too big for the canal. By 2011, 37 percent will be too big, the canal authority says.

Many international shippers also said the expansion was necessary given the increasing amount of products from China, Hong Kong and other parts of Asia that need to be transported to stores on the U.S. East Coast. China is the canal's second-biggest user, comprising 18 percent of traffic.

Some U.S. Republicans have worried about Beijing's growing influence in the canal zone. Ports on the waterway's Atlantic and Pacific sides are managed by shipping giant Hutchinson Whampoa Ltd., which is controlled by Hong Kong-based tycoon Li Ka-shing.

But Eaton said the U.S. largely views Chinese interest in the canal as "purely economic."

"They have a huge stake in making sure the Panama Canal operates efficiently and safely, just as we do," he said. "We don't see ulterior motives in the Chinese interest."

President Theodore Roosevelt arranged for Panama's independence from Colombia in 1903 to build the canal. By some accounts, more than 25,000 people died during American and French efforts to build the waterway, which opened on Aug. 15, 1914.

Torrijos' father, Gen. Omar Torrijos, who took power in a coup in 1968, signed a treaty with President Jimmy Carter in 1977 that ceded control of the canal to Panama on Dec. 31, 1999. Since then, accidents and the time needed to transverse the canal are down, while revenues are up.
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