A third Panama?
The Panama Canal has registered record cargo passage figures since December. This late boom has reinvigorated visions in Costa Rica or Nicaragua for alternative canals across Central America. The feasibility of these projects has not yet been substantiated, however.
The Panama Canal’s record run started towards the end of last year. According to the Panama Canal / Universal Measurement System (PC/UMS), a tonnage counting scheme modified for the canal to measure the volume of goods passing through it, 35.4 million t PC / UMS transited the canal in December 2016, and 36.1 million t PC / UMS in January this year. February, slightly shorter, offered lower returns, but also set a daily tonnage record of 1.18 million t PC / UMS, carried on 1,180 vessels passing through both the expanded as well as the original locks.
The global leader
So Panama Canal managers are naturally strutting their stuff these days. After the expanded canal was opened in June 2016 they had to overcome a lengthy build-up. Since then, around 850 neo-panamax vessels have transited the new locks; 53% of cargo transiting the waterway in containerships uses the expanded canal; and eleven new liner services have been re-routed via the waterway.
Jorge L. Quijano, the Panama Canal’s administrator, said that “these records are evidence of the maritime industry’s growing adoption of the expanded canal. As the new lane continues to reshape global maritime trade, its true impact becomes ever more apparent.”
The start of business this year has been more modest for Panama’s global competitor, the Suez Canal in Egypt, which has naturally resulted in some crowing in Panama.
High demand for the shipping of goods across Central America has triggered some new ideas in the region, however.
A canal, a road, a railway?
News from one such project in Nicaragua has dried up. Pronouncements on the Nicaragua Grand Canal, for which the Hong Kong-based HKND Group was awarded the development concession in 2012, have become few and far between. Two years after the widely-hyped ground-breaking ceremony for the inter-oceanic undertaking, activities in Brito, on Nicaragua’s Pacific coast, are mired in the planning stage. Late in 2016 Juan Carlos Varela, Panama’s president, described it as “more speculation than reality.”
Some authorities in Costa Rica, sandwiched between Panama and Nicaragua, have similar aspirations to their neighbour’s. Experts there have been thinking about an overland link across Central America since 1988. It would connect a new port in Parismina, on the Atlantic coast, with one near the Santa Elena Peninsula, on the Pacific in Guanacaste province. The project, called the Interoceanic Dry Canal, is managed by the Canal Seco de Costa Rica consortium (Cansec), which prevailed against 16 contenders in a tender for the project.
The plans include a railway as well as a road link. The overall costs of the undertaking are estimated at approximately USD 16 billion. Cansec expects to present an initial feasibility study by around the end of 2017.