Expansion work begins on Panama Canal

Last Updated: Thu, Jul 01, 2010 11:30 hrs

, July 1 (IANS/EFE) Expansion work on a third set of locks on the Panama Canal has officially begun.

'Today, a new future begins for the country,' said Panama President Ricardo Martinelli Wednesday at a ceremony jointly presided over by Martinelli, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi and Spanish Deputy Premier Manuel Chaves.

The function was also attended by the presidents of Colombia, Guatemala and Honduras.

The project is being carried out by Grupo Unidos por el Canal, a consortium led by Spain's Sacyr Vallehermoso construction company.

The canal, designed in 1904 for ships with a 267-metre length and 28-meter beam, is too small to handle the 'post-Panamax' ships that are three times as big, making it necessary to expand by building the new set of locks.

The Panama Canal Authority, a government agency that manages the waterway, wants to double transit capacity.

The 80-km canal, which currently handles about five percent of world trade, has been under Panamanian management since Dec 31, 1999, when the US surrendered it in keeping with the 1977 Torrijos-Carter treaties.