Four consortiums compete to build new Panama Canal ship locks

Saturday, December 15 2007 @ 08:42 am EST

Contributed by: Don Winner

PANAMA CITY (AFP) Panama will take bids from four international consortiums seeking to build new, larger ship locks for the Panama Canal, government officials said Friday. The locks are a key part of the 5.25 billion-dollar canal expansion project begun in September, aimed at doubling the capacity of the 50-mile (80-kilometer) canal connecting two oceans. Panamanian officials hope the project will be finished by 2014. The four consortiums now have until August 2008 to present final proposals and price tags to compete for the contract, said Alberto Aleman, head of the Panama Canal Authority. (more)

The bidders are:

The canal was built 1904-1914 by the United States, which handed control over to Panama in December 1999.

The largest ships that now use the canal carry up to 5,000 containers, but after the expansion supertankers and ships carrying as many as 12,000 containers will be able to sail the canal.

Some 14,000 ships, comprising about five percent of annual world commerce, pass through the Central American shortcut between the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, avoiding the arduous and costly journey around Cape Horn, at the southern tip of South America.

About 80 percent of Panama's economy is linked to canal activity, amounting to some six billion dollars, or 80 percent of Panama's gross domestic product.

The waterway's main users are the United States, China and Japan.

The government says work would be financed by a hike in tolls, worth 1.2 billion dollars in 2005.

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