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Panama Canal boss criticizes slow ports deepening

Monday, 13 February 2012 | 00:00
The administrator of the Panama Canal chastised U.S. and Canadian officials for not preparing their ports to take advantage of the expansion his country is undertaking.
Alberto Aleman Zubieta, CEO of the Panama Canal Authority, stressed that Panama is doubling the canal’s capacity by widening its system of locks and waterways to accommodate ships three times the current maximum. But Panama won’t realize the full benefits if East Coast ports aren’t also enhanced to accept those ships.
“What concerns me is how long it takes to do these types of projects and that they are not now being done in the U.S.,” Aleman was quoted as saying by Modern Materials Handling magazine.
He made his comments to logistics managers attending the inaugural trade show of MODEX, sponsored by the Material Handling Industry of America.
In two years, the canal will celebrate its 100th anniversary with the completion of its expansion project. East Coast ports such as Savannah, Jacksonville and Charleston hope to attract that added traffic.
However, all of them will have to be deepened to accept the larger ships expected through the Panama Call after it re-opens in 2014. Only ports in New York and Virginia can currently handle the bigger ships.
Georgia officials are lobbying Washington for federal funding to deepen the Savannah River shipping channel. South Carolina officials are working just as hard to block it in hopes of steering new business to Charleston.
Aleman, who recognizes the canal’s income depends on the attractiveness of all the East Coast ports, urged rapid action.
“You must realize that you are in a globalized economy. If you do not do it, someone else will. If you don’t capture those markets, someone else will,” he said.
He also delivered a sales pitch to convention attendees who weren’t public officials. He told them the canal’s expansion makes it attractive for them as shippers to use, either for connection between the Atlantic and Pacific oceans or as a port for reaching inland destinations.
“Panama is the only port with terminals in two oceans,” he said. “It is just 80 kilometers from ocean to ocean, and we have more port cranes in Panama than Chile, Mexico and Brazil.”
Aleman’s comments to the shippers at the inaugural MODEX convention was designed to convince them to opt for the all-water route via the canal from places such as China to the U.S. East Coast. Many shippers currently unload their wares at West Coast ports and use an overland route of rail or truck to get to markets in the East.
Source: Savannah Now
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