PANAMA CITY – A widened Panama Canal will be open for business in 2016 after a $400 million cash injection to help complete the long-delayed project was received, the waterway’s chief administrator said Monday.
Jorge Quijano, the Panama Canal Authority’s lead administrator, told reporters the $400 million loan to complete a $5.3 billion expansion was received by the consortium widening the canal in Central America.
“This is going to help cash flow, … keep independent contractors paid, and get the construction completed,” Quijano explained.
The project was initially planned to have been completed this year in time for the canal’s 100th anniversary.
Now, construction is expected to be finished in 2015, and the widened canal to open in early 2016, the authority says.
The widening will allow it to handle so-called “Post-Panamax” ships with a capacity of up to 15,000 containers, instead of the current maximum of 5,000.
But the project has been plagued by delays, strikes and a bitter dispute over $1.6 billion in cost overruns with the consortium of companies carrying out the upgrade.
“I don’t think we’ll be seeing another delay between now and completion,” Quijano said.
The consortium, known as GUPC, is led by Spain’s Sacyr.
Operating the canal has been a boon for Panama, bringing in about $1 billion a year — equivalent to 10 percent of the government’s revenues and six percent of the national economy.
The waterway provides 10,000 jobs and has helped make Panama one of the most dynamic economies in the region, with 8.4 percent growth last year.
The Suez Canal in Egypt has larger capacity, cutting into Panama’s share of global shipping traffic, and recently launched construction on a $4-billion “new Suez Canal” running parallel to the original.
Closer to home, Nicaragua, which fought Panama more than a century ago to host the first canal across Central America, has reemerged as a modern-day rival.
The Central American country has launched plans for a $40-billion, Chinese-built canal that would be able to handle modern mega-freighters too big for the Panama Canal’s current dimensions.