Change on a grand scale
"Nothing, it has been said is true but change, nothing abides”. This wonderful line – from one of my favourite Scottish novels, Sunset Song – came into my mind recently when I was absorbing the dramatic news of proposals for a new Atlantic-Pacific canal to be constructed in Nicaragua.
It was only back in August that the Panama Canal, one of the greatest facilitators of international maritime trade, celebrated its 100 year anniversary. Following a national referendum in Panama voting in favour of the canal expansion, construction of a series of new locks in a $5bn project is at an advanced stage. This will boost the capacity of the canal and allow ever-larger ships to transit the famous route connecting the Atlantic and Pacific oceans. Although the project is behind schedule, we are not far away from entering a ‘Post-panamax’ world which has consequences, and great opportunities, for the shipbuilding industry and ports around the world, with many nearby US ports already developing their facilities to accommodate a new generation of larger vessels.
I am sure that many people would view this as a project which heralds bold and exciting change in the shipping world; but for some it is not enough - step forward the Hong Kong-based HKND Group, who wish to work with the Government of Nicaragua to create a new canal to facilitate even larger vessels than the newly expanded Panama Canal will handle. Back in the July 2014 issue of Sea Breezes I commented on the growing influence of the Far East in all aspects of world shipping, mentioning the Far East involvement in some key European ports, but at that point I was not fully aware of the scale of these new aspirations to create a new international waterway at a cost of $40bn-$50bn.
HKND Group is working with the Government of Nicaragua on the project, and is very hopeful that work can start soon. There are, however, concerns about impacts on Lake Nicaragua (Central America’s largest lake) and protests being registered by farmers along the proposed route. The Nicaraguan Government is obviously seized by the potential opportunity to boost its economy and make the country a real hub of international trade and logistics. I wonder how those involved in the Panama project are feeling with the spectre of a new canal looming over them?
All of this represents change on a grand scale for international shipping. It will be interesting to see how the next chapter of the story evolves.HAMISH ROSS, EDITOR