Panama Canal’s leaks could cause expansion delay, official admits

Doubts about the Panama Canal’s ability to meet its expansion launch deadline got an official face on Tuesday as the Canal’s deputy administrator admitted it is likely the cracks in the new locks could cause a delay after all, according to Reuters.

The 5 billion expansion, already behind its original 2014 date, could well face extensions to the current April 2016 target, Manuel Benitez of the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) admitted to the agency, although he could not name a date.

Cracks and leaks appeared in the new third lock in August during filling of the locks, which began on June 22.

For the first few weeks after the discovery the ACP put on a brave face and asserted the April deadline was safe, even though videos and pictures of the crack suggested there were reasons for concern.

In early September reports o engineering specialty sites suggested the ACP was much less bullish behind the scenes.

Then last week (September 15) tensions between the ACP and the contractors responsible for the locks Grupo Unidos por el Canal (GUPC) came to the fore.

The ACP let it be known it was dissatisfied with GUPC’s answer to requests for diagnosis, cause, solution and estimated fix time for the leaks.

Throughout the leaks drama ACP has insisted that the onus and obligation is all on GUPC (a consortium comprising Spain’s Sacyr Vallehermoso, Italy’s Impregilo, Belgium’s Jan De Nul and Panama’s Constructura Urbana, SA). Deficiencies in work quality by the contractor are not acceptable, said ACP, and any costs needed to fix the problem must be met by GUPC.

Benitez reiterated that stance on Tuesday, saying that ACP was awaiting reports from GUPC. He also said there would be no question of rushing to deadline at the expense of quality work done on the cracks.

The expansion project is intended to make the Canal ready for the new generation of mega-sized container ships.

Donal Scully

With 28 years experience writing and editing for newspapers in the UK and Hong Kong, Donal is now based in California from where he covers the Americas for Splash as well as ensuring the site is loaded through the Western Hemisphere timezone.
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