Nicaragua - Inter-Oceanic Canal

  Tonymercury Sir Nigel Gresley

Location: Botany NSW
Nicaragua's infrastructure and public services committee has approved the creation of a canal authority for the planned inter-oceanic canal to connect the country's Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

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  Tonymercury Sir Nigel Gresley

Location: Botany NSW
Nicaragua's national assembly has picked Manuel Coronel Kautz to head an authority recently created to oversee a canal project that aims to connect the country's two coasts. Kautz
  wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

Location: front left seat EE set now departed
Nicaragua's new waterway will be a higher-capacity alternative to the 99-year-old Panama Canal (pictured), which is currently being widened at the cost of $5.2bn. Photograph: Danny Lehman/Corbis
Nicaragua has awarded a Chinese company a 100-year concession to build an alternative to the Panama Canal, in a step that looks set to have profound geopolitical ramifications.
The president of the country's national assembly, Rene Nuñez, announced the $40bn (£26bn) project, which will reinforce Beijing's growing influence on global trade and weaken US dominance over the key shipping route between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans.
The name of the company and other details have yet to be released, but the opposition congressman Luis Callejas said the government planned to grant a 100-year lease to the Chinese operator.
The national assembly will debate two bills on the project, including an outline for an environmental impact assessment, on Friday.
Nicaragua's president, Daniel Ortega, said recently that the new channel would be built through the waters of Lake Nicaragua.
The new route will be a higher-capacity alternative to the 99-year-old Panama Canal, which is currently being widened at the cost of $5.2bn.
Last year, the Nicaraguan government noted that the new canal should be able to allow passage for mega-container ships with a dead weight of up to 250,000 tonnes. This is more than double the size of the vessels that will be able to pass through the Panama Canal after its expansion, it said.
According to a bill submitted to congress last year, Nicaragua's canal will be 22 metres deep and 286 km (178 miles) long - bigger than Panama and Suez in all dimensions.
Under the initial plans for the project, the government was expected to be the majority shareholder, with construction taking 10 years and the first ship passing through the canal within six years. It is unclear if this is still the case.
Two former Colombian officials recently accused China of influencing the international court of justice to secure the territorial waters that Nicaragua needs for the project.
In an op-ed piece for the magazine Semana, Noemí Sanín, a former Colombian foreign secretary, and Miguel Ceballos, a former vice-minister of justice, said a Chinese judge had settled in Nicaragua's favour on a 13-year-old dispute over 75,000 square kilometres of sea.
They said this took place soon after Nicaraguan officials signed a memorandum of understanding last September with Wang Jing, the chairman of Xinwei Telecom and president of the newly established Hong Kong firm HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Company, to build and operate the canal.
Nicaragua has accused Colombia and Costa Rica, which has a claim on territory likely to be used by the new canal, of trying to prevent the project going ahead.
Additional reporting by Gareth Richards
• This article was amended on 7 June to clarify the location of Lake Nicaragua and to remove an incorrect reference to the proposed width of the canal.
  awsgc24 Minister for Railways

Location: Sydney
For UN Map, see:

One wonders if there will also be an InterOcean Railway through Nicaragua similar to the Panama Canal.

This would be useful for transhipping containers, etc., from ships that do not wish to traverse the canal, and pay the tolls thereof,

The existing RR, or whats left of it, is tiny, and does not connect the two oceans. It is narrow gauge (3' 6")

  wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

Location: front left seat EE set now departed
MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) — For centuries, tycoons and adventurers alike have dreamed of building a canal through Nicaragua between the Pacific and Atlantic oceans and riding a boom in international trade to new riches. Up until now, however, all comers were forced to admit defeat when faced with the sheer challenge of building a man-made river through dense, hilly jungle.

Now, the old dream is attracting a new hopeful, and this time from the other side of the world.

The Chinese company, HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co. Ltd., is working with the Nicaraguan government on a massive canal project experts say could take 11 years to finish, cost $40 billion and require digging about 130 miles (200 kilometers) of waterway.

Canal proponents say the waterway could create 40,000 construction jobs and essentially double the per-capita gross domestic product of Nicaragua, one of the poorest countries in Latin America. The government plans to grant the Chinese company a concession for 100 years.

That's sparked hopes of an economic gold rush in Nicaragua, and President Daniel Ortega has pushed approval of the canal through the country's congress. Ortega presented the canal proposal Tuesday and hopes to submit it to at least an initial vote on Monday, with final approval planned by next Thursday.

"This is a question of a project that is very important for the country, and that is why it is being given urgent priority," said congressional leader Rene Nunez, an Ortega supporter.

The opposition Sandinista Renovation Movement, which split in 1995 from Ortega, has tried to slow down the debate by demanding more information about the developers, while other critics have questioned the plan's viability just a few hundred miles northwest of the Panama Canal.

The Chinese company's director, Wang Jing, is also listed in the same role in 12 other existing or dissolved Hong Kong companies.

"If this information isn't forthcoming, we can assume this is a swindle, a deal with a front company to get a concession, and then sell the rights to someone else," the renovation movement party said in a statement. "It's a corrupt deal to make a lot of money with fake investors."

Just as the Panama Canal was a projection of growing U.S. power at the start of the 20th century, the Nicaragua project already reflects China's influence and financial clout around the world. Another Hong Kong-based company has been operating port facilities on both ends of the Panama Canal.

The Nicaraguan canal's construction would mark the end of a long push that began at least as far back as the 19th century when U.S. industrialist Cornelius Vanderbilt won the right to build the waterway but gave up amid political turmoil.

Other U.S. interests then studied building a canal in Nicaragua before settling on Panama as the crossing point.

This time around, critics have been asking whether Central America needs two canals, even in an age of growing world trade.

"Forty billion dollars is an extremely high amount and based on my experience and the studies we have done on world trade flows, the amount of traffic that would be needed to pay for a project of this size doesn't exist," said Eduardo Lugo, a Panamanian private consultant who's worked on traffic-demand calculations on the ongoing Panama Canal expansion.

Jason Bittner, director of the Center for Urban Transportation Research at the University of Southern Florida, said the demand will probably be there by the time the Nicaragua project is finished. Still, any new waterway would have to compete with the Panama Canal and the "land bridge" of railway networks that connect U.S. West Coast ports with the East Coast.

"I don't anticipate there being any reduced demand in trade between the global trading partners, so East Asia and the eastern United States will continue to have significant trade," Bittner said. "If you make this large public sector investment, it will be used, as long as it's priced properly, as long as the Panama Canal isn't significantly undercutting it."

Finding enough customers may turn out to be the least of the Chinese company's worries in a country that doesn't even have a paved road connecting its Pacific and Atlantic coasts.

For example, much of Nicaragua's water is earmarked for human use, and its lush rivers are too environmentally sensitive to be simply dredged into waterways or dammed to provide water to operate locks. Panama faced few such restrictions in the early 1900s when its canal was built.

In a previous version of the project presented in 2006, the promoters acknowledged they would probably have to build some dams, perhaps on rivers as sensitive as the San Juan, which runs along the border with Costa Rica.

In fact, the builders may have decided to eliminate a lot of digging by routing the canal through that river, according to a 2012 statement by Royal HaskoningDHV, a Dutch firm hired to do technical studies. That option had been written off in earlier proposals as too conflictive.

In 2011, Nicaragua and Costa Rica came close to an armed standoff over Nicaraguan dredging of the river to improve navigation. The World Court ordered both countries to withdraw armed forces from the area.

With 1.7 billion gallons (6.6 million cubic meters) of water per day needed to run Nicaragua's proposed locks, and tens of millions of tons of excavation needed, the project certainly looks daunting. Bittner noted that it matched the challenges of other mega-construction projects such as the Three Gorges Dam in China, which nonetheless took years and huge investments to complete.

"It is really not that much different from cutting the original Panama Canal," Bittner said. "I mean these things that we have done, the entire interstate highway system, these are massive projects that, if you were trying to put a lens to them, and say 'we can't get this because they're so massive,' we probably wouldn't have done them, but nonetheless, there they sit."

In big ways, the proposed waterway outmatches the challenges of building the Panama Canal, which took 10 years and cost the lives of about 5,600 workers. According to the 2006 project details, Nicaragua's canal would have to be more than three times longer than Panama's, which cuts through Central America's narrowest point.

Lugo said the canal's length, would make the project less competitive.

"It's very long, both to dredge it and maintain it," he said. "That is going to require high maintenance costs."

Promoters point to advantages such as the incorporation of huge Lake Nicaragua into the crossing. Once inside the lake, big oceangoing freighters could travel about 50 miles (80 kilometers) before passing through a pair of locks, and into a waterway dug across the waist of the country to the low, swampy Atlantic coast.

Panama, which already has a steady income flow from its canal, thought long and hard before embarking on its seven-year, $5.2 billion expansion project, scheduled to be finished next year, to allow larger ships to use its waterway.

Nicaragua, on the other hand, has been rushing in despite the doubts. Its canal's promoters argued in their 2006 presentation that they could capture 4.5 percent of world maritime freight traffic and notch a 22-percent profit margin by 2025, though their cost estimates at the time were much lower than that of the project presented this week.

The Chinese company has said it would wait until the National Assembly votes to express an opinion, adding in its statement that it is willing to fully study the project's technological, economic, environmental and social impacts.

"Our intention is to build a world-class project, with high standards," the firm said.

In the end, President Ortega's allies control the national legislature, which means the Chinese company will likely win their concession this coming week.

All along, Ortega's allies have sold the canal as a desperately needed economic boost.

"I think it is urgently necessary to solve problems like unemployment and making Nicaragua more attractive to investors, and that's why we should approve this speedily," said Erwin Castro, a congressman from Ortega's Sandinista Front.

Opposition congressman Luis Callejas said lawmakers were only asked to discuss the bill Friday with a vote scheduled just three days later.

"I do not understand what the rush is," Callejas said. "It's such a sensitive topic that the population should be consulted."
  wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

Location: front left seat EE set now departed
MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) -- In a story June 8 about Nicaragua's plans to build a canal, The Associated Press misidentified the university where Jason Bittner is director of the Center for Urban Transportation Research. It is the University of South Florida, not the University of Southern Florida.
  awsgc24 Minister for Railways

Location: Sydney
Nicaragua's infrastructure and public services committee has approved the creation of a canal authority for the planned inter-oceanic canal to connect the country's Atlantic and Pacific coasts.

Around the 1850s, it was not yet clear if the inter-ocean canal would go via Panama or Nicaragua.
  wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

Location: front left seat EE set now departed
MANAGUA (Reuters) - Nicaraguan lawmakers granted a 50-year concession to a Chinese company on Thursday for it to design, build and manage a shipping channel across the Central American nation that would compete with the Panama Canal.

The $40 billion proposal by HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co Ltd's (HKND Group) calls for linking Nicaragua's Caribbean and Pacific coasts and includes plans for two free-trade zones, a railway, an oil pipeline and airports.

The government says the canal, which has been discussed for decades, could boost the country's gross domestic product by up to 15 percent.

"Today is a day of hope for the poor of this country," said Edwin Castro, a lawmaker in President Daniel Ortega's ruling party, before the vote marking final legislative approval of the deal.

The Hong Kong-based HKND group is headed by Chinese lawyer Wang Jing. He also leads Chinese company Xinwei Telecom Enterprise Group, which last year received a cellphone concession in Nicaragua.

"Central America is at the center of North-South and East-West global trade flows, and we believe Nicaragua provides the perfect location for a new international shipping and logistics hub," Jing said in a statement after the plan's approval.

"We have a lot of work ahead, but we want to be clear that we intend this to be a world-class effort that creates economic opportunity, serves the global trade community, and also protects the local environment, heritage, and culture of Nicaragua."

Critics of the plan have railed against selling out state assets to the Chinese. After Thursday's vote, a group of opposition lawmakers left the chamber singing Nicaragua's national anthem before unfurling a banner that read, "Ortega: traitor."

About 100 people gathered outside the assembly to protest the decision, but there were no reported incidents.


Last week Ortega said the government was going ahead with feasibility studies that should be done by 2015, when work on the canal could begin.

Those studies will define what route the canal will cut through the country. Any design would almost certainly bisect Lake Nicaragua, which at 3,191 square miles (8,265 sq km) is Central America's largest lake.

Advocates say the proposal plays to Nicaragua's natural strengths, which include low-lying land and the lake.

Still, the channel would likely be three times longer than the 48-mile (77-km) Panama Canal, which took the United States a decade to build at the narrowest part of the isthmus. It was completed in 1914.

The idea of a Nicaraguan shipping canal is almost as old as the country itself. The United States has eyed a trade route there since the 19th century, around the same time work began on the Panama Canal.

But for the project's Chinese backers, the timing appears right. China is the world's second-largest economy and one of the region's top consumers, snapping up Latin American commodities to drive domestic growth.

"We believe that by 2030 - just over 16 years from now - the volume of trade addressable by the Nicaragua Canal will have grown by 240 percent from today," the company said in a statement.

"The total value of goods transiting the combined Nicaragua and Panama canals could exceed $1.4 trillion, making this one of the most important trade routes in the world," it said.

Panama Canal officials said it was too early to speculate on the viability of the Nicaraguan waterway or how it could affect trade.

"We get questions of hypotheticals every day, 'What happens if the Arctic melts, if manufacturing is moved from China to Mexico,'" said Rodolfo Sabonge, vice president of market research at the Panama Canal Authority.

"Until we really see the plans and understand the investment, all we know is that they talk about $40 billion," he said. "It's very, very early."
  wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

Location: front left seat EE set now departed
A proposed Nicaraguan waterway rivaling the Panama Canal would cause an environmental disaster threatening drinking water supplies and fragile ecosystems, conservationists said.

President Daniel Ortega approved the $40 billion deal Thursday, granting the concession to little-known Hong Kong-based company HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co., known as HKND Group.

"Nicaragua is among the poorest countries in the region after Haiti," Ortega said. "This project will help us conquer our final independence."

But Centro Humboldt environmental group deputy director Victor Campos told AFP the project to link Nicaragua's Atlantic and Pacific coasts will jeopardize the watershed that supplies water to most of the impoverished country's population when it transits through Lake Nicaragua.

Under the deal, worth double the national GDP, the company led by Chinese tycoon Wang Jing gets 50 years of exclusive rights to build and operate the canal in exchange for Nicaragua receiving a minority share of the profits.

But the rights mean HKDN will "extend, expand, dredge or reduce bodies of water and water resources that are subject to protection and conservation safeguards," according to the Nicaraguan Alliance for Climate Change, which brings together 20 environmental groups.

"We have to think about it twice" before breaking ground on the project, said geographer Jaime Incer Barquero of the Nicaraguan Foundation for Sustainable Development, or FUNDENIC SOS, who also advises the government on environmental issues.

HKDN spokesman Ronald MacLean said the company was considering four possible routes for the waterway, and all would necessarily go across Lake Nicaragua.

In the lake lies an island with an active volcano and some 300 islets that serve as breeding grounds for the American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus), the largest reptile living in Central America and the Caribbean.

One of the possible canal routes would pass through the sprawling Cerro Silva nature reserve between the southern Caribbean coast and the El Rama River port, home to coastal ecosystems, wetlands and tropical forests that environmentalists warn could disappear.

Also in the path of the construction is the Punta Gorda nature reserve in the southern Caribbean, home to more than 120 species of birds, mammals, reptiles, fish, amphibians, mollusks and crustaceans.

"The natural resources involved in the construction of the canal mean it comes at a high cost" and poses "the greatest threat" to the country's ecosystems, the Nicaraguan Alliance for Climate Change said.

To allay fears over potential environmental damage, HKDN announced it had hired British consultancy Environmental Resources Management to independently assess the environmental and social impact of the routes in question.

"We are committed to ensuring the proper design, construction, and operation of the Grand Canal," Wang said at the signing ceremony, through a Chinese interpreter.

The vast leeway given to HKDN -- which will have absolute powers over manning the waterway, autonomy in deciding what land should be expropriated and freedom to set fares and tolls -- led opposition lawmaker Victor Tinoco to declare that "the president went crazy."

The plan also includes building ports, an airport, pipeline and a railway. A free trade zone is also set to be created.

The waterway is expected to be wider and deeper than the 82-kilometer (51-mile) Panama Canal.

Work on the canal should begin in May 2014 after a feasibility study is completed.

The Panama Canal handles five percent of world trade annually, and has hosted more than one million vessels since it was inaugurated in 1914.
  wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

Location: front left seat EE set now departed
Managua, Nicaragua (AP) - A multi-billion dollar Chinese plan to plow a massive rival to the Panama Canal across the middle of Nicaragua was approved by the leftist-controlled National Assembly Thursday, capping a lightning-fast approval process that has provoked deep skepticism among shipping experts and concern among environmentalists.

The assembly dominated by President Daniel Ortega's Sandinista Front was expected to vote overwhelmingly to grant a 50-year concession to build the canal - with an option for another 50 - to a Hong Kong-based company whose only previous experience appears to be in telecommunications.

The law granting the concession to HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co., known as HKND Group and owned by Beijing-based entrepreneur Wang Jing, aim to fulfill a long-held national dream for a waterway linking this nation's Caribbean coast to the Pacific.

The project is highly controversial because the little-known company was founded less than a year ago, and because of its huge price tag - the equivalent of twice this impoverished country's GDP.

Opposition politicians, environmentalists, economists and indigenous communities have criticized the project, saying the government of President Daniel Ortega is "mortgaging Nicaragua" to a company created by "a Chinese businessman nobody knows."

Ortega - whose administration only has diplomatic relations with Taiwan and not Beijing - is set to sign the agreement in Managua on Friday with the company, which has also created a subsidiary in the Cayman Islands.

The plan includes building a canal linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans through Nicaraguan territory, along with ports, an airport, pipeline and a railway. A free trade zone is also set to be created.

The waterway is expected to be wider and deeper than the 82-kilometer (51-mile) Panama Canal.

Work on the canal should begin in May 2014 after a feasibility study is completed, according to Ortega.

The Panama Canal handles five percent of world trade annually, and has hosted more than one million vessels since it was inaugurated in 1914.

Ortega's backers say the Chinese will transform one of the region's poorest countries by turning a centuries-old dream of a Nicaraguan trans-ocean canal into reality, bringing tens of thousands of jobs to the country and fueling an economic boom that would mimic the canal-driven prosperity of nearby Panama.

The currently estimated cost is $40 billion.

"One of Nicaragua's great riches is its geographic position, that's why this idea has always been around," Sandinista congressman Jacinto Suarez said during the legislative debate Thursday. "Global trade demands that this canal is built because it's necessary. The data shows that maritime transport is constantly growing and that makes this feasible. Opposing it is unpatriotic."

The Hong Kong company has provided virtually no details about the canal, even its potential route, but it would certainly cross Lake Nicaragua, the country's primary source of fresh water. If one of the world's largest infrastructure projects ever is actually built, the water used by the canal's locks could seriously deplete the lake, environmentalists say.

Global engineering and shipping experts say those concerns are real, but lowered demand for massive container shipping and increasing competition from potential routes, including the warming Arctic, may mean that the Nicaraguan canal will simply prove economically unfeasible, adding to a long list of unrealized visions of moving riches from sea to sea across the country.
  wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

Location: front left seat EE set now departed
MANAGUA/PANAMA CITY (Reuters) - For centuries since the colonization of the New World, entrepreneurs have dreamed of building a canal spanning Nicaragua to make it easier to tap Asia's riches.

Sixteenth century Spanish conquistador Hernan Cortes yearned to cleave the isthmus, and ever since, French, American and Dutch financiers have all made abortive, Quixotic attempts to bisect the Central American country's volcano-studded terrain.

Now it's the turn of the Chinese. And skepticism is as strong as ever.

The Hong Kong-based company that won a concession to design, build and manage a $40 billion canal to rival Panama's says it has been lured by an energy renaissance in the United States and its belief that world trade could double by 2030.

The company, HKND Group, was registered last year in the Cayman Islands. This would be its first infrastructure project, and its 40-year-old boss, Wang Jing, is relatively unknown.

There is still no firm route for the proposed canal, which would cost about four years' worth of Nicaragua's annual gross domestic product, and would likely be three times longer than the 48-mile (77-km) Panama Canal, which took a decade to build. Engineers also note that the geography poses some major challenges - not least a 20 foot tide differential between the two coasts.

For all those reasons, investors and infrastructure experts are highly dubious that a canal will ever be built.

"Are international shipping companies going to trust a one-guy shop with minor telecommunications experience to be the system integrator on a $40 billion project in a country whose transparency is already subject to question?", said Evan Ellis, a professor of national security studies at the U.S. Government's National Defense University.

Greg Miller, a shipping consultant at IHS Fairplay, a global maritime intelligence company, was also highly skeptical.

"The Nicaragua canal will never be built and the only people who'll financially profit from this proposal are the consultants paid to do the feasibility studies," he said.

Rosario Murillo, the wife of President Daniel Ortega and his government spokeswoman, said at a ceremony with Wang after the concession was granted: "This is a day of miracles, of wonders." Government officials declined to comment on skepticism that has emerged since then.


HKND Group is a unit of holding company the HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co., Ltd. which was incorporated last year, according to the Hong Kong Companies Registry.

It bases its projections for the future success of a Nicaragua canal on the U.S. shale revolution, which has unlocked decades of oil and gas supply. If the United States wants to export more to Asia, the theory goes, it will need to send more and bigger ships from Gulf Coast refineries by canal to the Pacific, and Panama won't be able to handle it all.

"This project can be undertaken now, and only now, thanks to the discovery of prodigious amounts of gas and oil in the United States," said Ronald MacLean-Abaroa, HKND Group's spokesman, who is a former mayor of Bolivia's La Paz and one-time World Bank governance specialist.

"Three years ago that didn't exist," he told Reuters in an interview, saying the company would seek to raise private financing in Asia. On its website, the company also pointed to growth in U.S. exports of iron ore, coal and grains.

The Panama canal is already expanding to accommodate growth in traffic, and experts say the shale oil boom could benefit a Nicaraguan project, if it is ever completed.

Maersk Line, the world's largest container shipping company and the Panama Canal's top customer, has rerouted services from Asia to the East Coast of the United States via the Suez Canal. Its newest ships are too big for the Panama Canal, even after a third lane is built.

A spokesman for Maersk Line Central America and Caribbean said it was too early to speculate on the Nicaragua project, but it would be monitoring developments.

"We applaud bold initiatives that can boost the possibilities for container shipping for the benefit of both lines and our customers," Ariel Frias said.

Panama Canal officials have said it is too early to speculate on the viability of the Nicaraguan waterway or how it could affect trade.


Little is known about the Chinese lawyer and businessman behind the canal project, Wang Jing.

According to his identity card data, Wang was born in Beijing on December 24, 1972, but there is no information on him publicly available until 2010, when he became the head of the Xinwei Telecom Enterprise Group, a wireless communications company. Wang visited Nicaragua in 2012 and signed a wireless telecoms deal.

Xinwei's website says the group's core markets include public telecoms operations, public security, oil fields, power grids, water conservancy and transportation and emergency communication, and lists several subsidiaries in China, Hong Kong, Russia and Cyprus.

The site, which does not mention HKND Group, carries photographs of Xi Jinping, now China's president, and Li Keqiang, now premier, visiting Xinwei.

"Your future is very bright. Full of hope," the site quotes Li as saying of Xinwei, picturing Wang with the leader. It said the visit took place on December 21, 2010.

At Wang Jing's listed office in Hong Kong, a woman declined to say where he was. HKND Group's plush office takes up a large part of the 18th floor of Two International Finance Centre, which it occupied in May.

The office is large and brand new with a view of Victoria Harbor outside its floor-to-ceiling windows. Big LED screens by the front door play the company's promotional videos in a loop. The office was very quiet and few people were working there.

An HKND spokesperson contacted by email said Wang was not available to comment for this story.

The company has given little information on the practicalities of building the proposed canal. The concession simply lists a shipping canal, ports and terminals, an oil pipeline, a railway, free trade zones and an airport.

Unlike the Panama Canal, a canal cutting across Nicaragua could theoretically be built at sea level, without locks, but there is a problem with the tides at either end. The timing and height of the tides are different, meaning that the water level can be as much as 20 feet higher at one end.

"It means a lot of water is going to come from west to east," said J. David Rogers, professor or geological engineering at Missouri University of Science & Technology.

"Everybody would love to have a sea-level canal between the Pacific and the Atlantic," he said, adding that engineers would likely have to consider tidal weirs.

"I'm not saying you can't do it, but it has some major engineering challenges that have to be overcome, and if it's your first project, I wouldn't invest in it."

Environmentalists are concerned the project could contaminate Lake Nicaragua, Central America's largest reserve of fresh water, which would almost certainly be part of any route.

President Ortega said last week the government was going ahead with feasibility studies that should be done by 2015, when work on the canal could begin.

Under the terms of the concession, HKND Group would face no legal or economic sanctions for failing to complete the project.

"Who knows if this is actually going to happen or not, but it seems much more serious at this point. There's some real heavy-weights involved," said Margaret Myers, director of the China and Latin America program at the Washington D.C.-based Inter-American Dialogue.

She noted HKND Group says it is working with several respected international companies, including Environmental Resources Management, a leading sustainability consultancy, and consulting firm McKinsey & Company.

McKinsey declined to comment, citing client confidentiality. Environmental Resources Management confirmed it had been hired to do a study.


Another open question is the financing.

Christopher Erckert is a partner at the U.S. Mayer Brown law firm, which advised the Panama Canal Authority in its $5.25 billion expansion. A specialist in Latin American project finance, he said the main risk would be if Nicaragua nationalized the canal in the future.

"Nicaragua is not an investment grade country. That's a fact," he said. "That makes this a speculative grade investment... which limits the kind of investors who can play."

Several project financiers Reuters spoke to, who asked not to be named, said they had seen no signs in the industry of interest in the project.

If the project does go ahead, it might depend on China's desire to flex its muscles in America's backyard.

Alfonso Guzman, managing director at Castalia Strategic Advisors, an international economic and financial advisory firm, said it was hard to see how the project would be commercially viable.

"The only way it can be viable is if someone like the Chinese government provides a lot of grants and low-cost money so that the cost of the project is low and the prices charged for using this canal are lower or comparable to what the Panama canal offers," he said.
  wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

Location: front left seat EE set now departed
BEIJING (Reuters) - The mysterious Chinese businessman behind a $40 billion plan to build a canal through Nicaragua pledged transparency on Tuesday -- but refused to reveal where he attended college.

Wang Jing, 40, who says his initial wealth came from a gold mine investment in Cambodia, is the only public face for a project that on paper would challenge the Panama Canal's monopoly on shipping oil, ore and containers between Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico ports and Asian markets via Central America.

Nicaragua's Congress last week granted Wang's Cayman Islands-registered HKND company a 50-year concession to develop the canal, following a September agreement with president Daniel Ortega. HKND in turn is a unit of HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co., Ltd, a firm Wang had registered in Hong Kong just a month before the deal with Ortega.

Wang denied any family connection to the Chinese government, military or ruling Communist Party. Connections, or guanxi, are often the hidden ingredient behind sudden success in China.

"I always hoped people would pay attention to the project and not to me personally," he told a news conference at a luxury hotel in central Beijing.

"I am a very normal Chinese citizen. I couldn't be more normal."

The plan - which has generated a lot of skepticism from industry experts - is to build a 286-km (178-mile) canal connecting the Caribbean with the Pacific via Lake Nicaragua, Central America's largest freshwater lake.

It would cost about four years' worth of Nicaragua's annual gross domestic product, and would likely be three times longer than the Panama Canal, which took a decade to build.

Speaking later in an interview with Reuters, Wang said HKND would head a consortium of partners that would operate "fairly, impartially and openly" and might include international firms.

It would be financed by large Chinese and international banks that he declined to name, although he said financing negotiations were going smoothly.

A likely partner is China Railway Construction, one of the country's largest state-owned infrastructure developers, according to HKND materials promoting the project. Another of Wang's companies, the unlisted Xinwei Telecom Enterprise Group, signed a cooperation accord with China Railway earlier this year.

On one point, Wang was explicit - he would maintain at least a 5 percent stake in HKND, and he would remain in charge. He owns 100 percent of HKND.

"Any future partners or consortium will respect my views and opinions very much," he said.

Wang projected annual shipping revenues of $5.5 billion when the canal is at full capacity. The deal calls for construction to be completed in five years, but contains no penalties for delay. Once constructed, ownership of the concession would gradually return to Nicaragua.

The tall, round-faced Wang was unknown when he privatized loss-making state-owned Xinwei in 2010 and transformed it. Xinwei booked over 2 billion yuan ($325.46 million) in profits last year, Chinese media reported, mostly building wireless networks in other countries.

Xinwei's website carries photographs of Xi Jinping, now China's president, and Li Keqiang, now premier, visiting Xinwei.

Wang told journalists he studied traditional Chinese medicine, but added it was "inconvenient" to say at which university. He then took an interest in mining in Southeast Asia, including the Cambodian gold mine, he said.

Wang said he lived in his native Beijing with his mother, younger brother and daughter. Corporate records show a hotel management company registered to Wang and his brother, Wang Peng, as well as other small entertainment and telecommunications companies under their names.

Reuters was not able to locate the hotel management company at its registered address.

Wang's nearly 40 percent stake in Xinwei is worth about $1 billion, based on the asking price for a minority share in the firm currently on sale by state-owned Datang Telecommunications. ($1 = 6.1451 Chinese yuan)

(Makes clear in second paragraph Panama Canal's monopoly covers Central America)
  wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

Location: front left seat EE set now departed
LA PAZ: A proposed waterway to rival the Panama Canal could make Nicaragua the richest country in Central America, a project official was quoted as saying on Sunday.
President Daniel Ortega recently approved the $40-billion undertaking, granting the concession to little-known Hong Kong-based company HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co., known as HKND Group.
Under the deal, the company led by Chinese tycoon Wang Jing gets 50 years of exclusive rights to build and operate the canal in exchange for Nicaragua receiving a minority share of the profits.
Now its poorest nation, "Nicaragua will become by far the richest country in Central America -- and that will affect the entire region," the La Paz daily Pagina Siete quoted HKDN spokesman Ronald MacLean Abaroa as saying.
MacLean Abaroa, a Bolivian former World Bank official, is a former mayor of La Paz and now serves as an advisor to HKND.
"Investment in this project is three to four times the GDP of Nicaragua, there will be an effect of full employment and prosperity," he was quoted as saying.
Environmentalists have warned that the project could spark an environmental disaster that threatens drinking water supplies and fragile ecosystems.
MacLean Abaroa has said in the past that the company was considering four possible routes for the waterway, and all would necessarily go across Lake Nicaragua.
In the lake lies an island with an active volcano and some 300 small islands that serve as breeding grounds for the American crocodile (Crocodylus acutus), the largest reptile living in Central America and the Caribbean.
In Sunday's remarks, MacLean Abaroa said the waterway project could generate resources to deal with environmental problems such as the cleaning up of Lake Nicaragua and deforestation caused by endemic poverty and civil war.
The canal plan includes building ports, an airport, pipeline and a railway. A free trade zone is also set to be created.
The waterway is expected to be wider and deeper than the 82-kilometre (51-mile) Panama Canal.
Work should begin in May 2014 after a feasibility study is completed.
The Panama Canal handles five per cent of world trade annually, and has hosted more than one million vessels since it was inaugurated in 1914.
  wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

Location: front left seat EE set now departed
MANAGUA, Nicaragua (AP) — Six months after the Sandinista government granted a Chinese businessman a 100-year concession to build a vast canal across Nicaragua, most of the nation is in the thrall of the imagined waterway.
In the capital, Nicaraguans snap photographs of the plaster Virgin Mary perched on an altar against the backdrop of a supertanker traversing the country’s biggest lake. ‘‘Virgin Mary, bless the great trans-ocean canal!’’ declares the government-sponsored invocation behind her.
From boardrooms in the capital to hamlets where goods move by horse cart, Nicaraguans say they are confident the $40 billion canal will become reality, lifting their country from poverty to prosperity. The national university system announced this summer that it will create majors in metallurgy and port management, as well as Chinese language classes, in service of the canal.
Warnings by legal and environmental experts that the waterway is economically unfeasible, ecologically risky and a bad deal for Nicaragua are virtually unheard in a country where President Daniel Ortega has consolidated control of every major state institution, as well as much of the media. Opposition charges that Ortega is conjuring a canal to win support for unlimited re-election are falling on deaf ears.
‘‘The inter-ocean canal will mean great growth for Nicaragua, for the president and for the people too,’’ Daniel Ellis, 19, an architecture student from the Atlantic coast said as he posed by another government altar celebrating the waterway.
After three days of discussion in June, the National Assembly controlled by Ortega’s Sandinista party approved giving Beijing-based telecommunications CEO Wang Jing a 50-year renewable concession to build a canal more than three times the length of the Panama Canal, as well as tax-free side projects including ports on Nicaragua’s Pacific and Atlantic coasts, an oil pipeline bisecting the country, a cargo railway, two free-trade zones and an international airport.
The deal pays Nicaragua $10 million a year for 10 years and gradually transfers ownership to Nicaragua, handing over 100 percent after a century. But the payments and the transfer only begin if and when the canal begins operation. Under the agreement, Wang can skip building the canal altogether but plow ahead with the other projects.
Critics fear this will leave Wang with a host of lucrative tax-free enterprises, and Nicaragua without the centerpiece of the deal or revenue from what actually gets built.
‘‘This is an astounding giveaway,’’ said Noel Maurer, a Harvard Business School expert on Latin American development. ‘‘It’s just kind of like here’s a bunch of privileges, go build something.’’
‘‘This is a worse deal than the original Panama Canal deal, which was not a good deal and not a deal that Panama voluntarily signed,’’ Maurer said.
Manuel Coronel Kautz, a veteran Sandinista leader who manages Nicaragua’s Great Inter-Oceanic Canal Authority, said the government was confident the canal would ‘‘generate an enormous number of jobs for an impoverished country.’’
Chief project adviser Bill Wild said Wang is spending large amounts of his own money to dispatch dozens of Chinese, Nicaraguan and Western experts around the country to conduct environmental and geological feasibility studies to be completed in coming months.
‘‘He’s not out there just to build these sub-projects,’’ Wild said. ‘‘The canal is his vision, there’s no doubt of that if you talk to the guy.’’
Wild said the heavily criticized canal concession was designed in good faith to fairly compensate Wang for taking a bold financial risk.
‘‘People expect a reasonable return, a good return,’’ Wild said. ‘‘The return for Nicaragua in my books comes from the social benefit that comes from the existence of the canal.’’
The legislation allows Wang to petition the state to confiscate any land needed. It requires him to pay owners the assessed value, but much of the property outside major cities has never been officially assessed, risking what private businesses fear could be a land grab for pennies on the dollar.
Nicaragua is required to compensate Wang for legal changes that delay the canal or cause it to lose money. Compensation can come from state coffers, including the reserves of the central bank, under a waiver of Nicaragua’s sovereign immunity.
Many legal and environmental experts charge that the canal deal violates national sovereignty, and construction could cause profound ecological damage to this rugged nation of lakes, cloud-wreathed volcanoes and thick tropical forest, by damming rivers, splitting ecosystems and moving untold tons of earth.
‘‘It’s basically handing over the whole country — water, air and land, without any studies,’’ said Luis Callejas, an opposition congressman who was invited to join a 10-day trip to China sponsored by Wang in October for a group of prominent Nicaraguan businessmen and politicians.
After he announced he would present Wang with a letter decrying the secrecy and constitutional violations of the canal concession process, Callejas did not receive the promised visa to China, and the group left without him. A Sandinista lawmaker who abstained from voting in favor of the canal law was ejected from the party’s congressional caucus days later.
Wild said the canal would improve Nicaragua’s environment, in large part because large-scale reforestation would be needed to guarantee water to the canal.
‘‘What we’re going to do will be an absolute positive for the environment,’’ he said.
Environmentalists, academics and non-governmental organizations have filed dozens of challenges to the constitutionality of the canal deal. They expect that a Supreme Court dominated by allies of Ortega’s party will dismiss the cases in coming months, removing the last legal barriers to what some portray as a gambit to burnish Ortega’s popularity ahead of Nicaragua’s 2016 presidential elections.
The Sandinistas last month proposed a set of constitutional changes that would allow Ortega to run for unlimited re-election. The reforms, approved Tuesday in the first of two required votes, would also write the canal laws into the constitution.
The canal is ‘‘a personal family project about President Ortega maintaining power through a megaproject that’s generating illusions of profits among the people,’’ said Manuel Ortega Hegg, a sociology professor at the Central American University in the capital, who is not related to the president.
Critics say that regardless of that happens in Nicaragua, global trade will not support a second Central American canal, particularly as the Panama Canal completes a massive expansion more than doubling the size of the ships it serves. Shipping experts say that the proposed canal, with an original price tag of $40 billion, would have to earn $1 billion annually to turn a profit, meaning it would have to immediately draw half of Panama’s current ship traffic.
And the construction costs may be climbing. Cesar Zamora, a power company executive who traveled to China in October, said Wang Jing’s company informed the group that the estimated price of the canal already has risen to $50 billion because of unspecified environmental costs.
‘‘What Daniel Ortega is doing is selling dreams to Nicaraguans,’’ said Francisco Aguirre Sacasa, who served as ambassador to Washington and as foreign minister before Ortega returned to power in 2011. ‘‘I would love it if Nicaragua had a canal but I just don’t see it in the cards right now.’’
Wang and other Nicaraguan canal boosters say they are confident there is demand for a waterway accommodating larger ships than even the expanded Panama Canal.
‘‘There seems to be a very strong business case,’’ Wild said. ‘‘I've seen nothing that changes my view that world trade can handle another canal.’’
Nicaragua was long considered a site for a trans-ocean canal, coming under repeated consideration by the U.S. in the 19th century before Washington decided on Panama. Nicaragua has watched enviously as the Panama Canal fueled growth virtually unmatched in the region, as Nicaragua struggles to move 40 percent of its 6 million people out of poverty.
Ortega’s advisers have projected construction on the canal could begin next year and take five or six years to complete. They say it could more than triple Nicaragua’s roughly 5 percent growth rate by 2015 and double its $10 billion GDP by 2018.
Advocates say complaints about the terms of the concession are motivated by opposition to Ortega, who has been pushing to bring private investment to the country despite his leftist roots. That push has become more urgent in the face of waning aid from Venezuela, a socialist patron facing its own economic struggles.
‘‘This is a project that’s been waiting for centuries and that’s why we’re interested in doing it as soon as possible,’’ said Edwin Castro, a ruling-party congressman who voted for the canal concession law. ‘‘There’s no unconstitutionality. It’s political attacks from those who don’t want Nicaragua to move forward.’’
Wang’s previous venture, the telecommunications company Xinwei, has boasted it has orchestrated an array of deals worth more than $5 billion over the last three years but an examination of those claims by The Associated Press showed that Xinwei’s promises to build revolutionary new telecom networks had yet to materialize and deals with local partners were marred by false starts and poor performance.
Wang, who announced last week he will spearhead a $3 billion joint venture to construct a deep-water port and refurbish the Sevastopol port on Ukraine’s Crimean Peninsula, has told the AP that he is proud of his record, and that his plans to raise $8 billion by year’s end in the first phase of the canal’s financing are going ‘‘smoothly.’’
Many in Nicaragua, from wealthy businessmen to struggling members of the working poor, care little about criticism of the canal, saying it will be worth all the government concessions if it brings badly needed jobs.
But there is deep concern in the hamlet of La Virgen, a string of several dozen well-kept homes clustered along the shores of Lake Nicaragua near the mouth of the Lajas River, about two hours’ south of the capital. It is a spot singled out on planning maps as a site where container ships would exit the enormous freshwater inland sea that covers much of western Nicaragua, and steam on toward the Pacific.
The town sits half a mile from the mouth of the river, a sandy crescent bay where hundreds of snow-white egrets preen and bathe in a silence broken only by the crash of waves against the shore and the rustling of trees along the riverbank.
On a recent afternoon, Rodolfo Molina, an 81-year-old retired mechanic, dried rice for storage, raking it onto a plastic sheet in front of the home where he has lived for 40 years.
He said it is almost certain he and his neighbors will be forced to relocate if the canal is built.
‘‘It can bring jobs,’’ he said, squinting into the sun, ‘‘but it also could bring trouble.’’
Back in the capital, Geomara Alvarez, a 27-year-old cell-phone accessory vendor wearing a rosary over her purple t-shirt and jeans, said her country’s future lay in the construction of the canal.
‘‘The canal will change the face of my country, my poor Nicaragua that has suffered so much,’’ she said. ‘‘God wants it to be so.’’
  wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

Location: front left seat EE set now departed
BEIJING (Reuters) - Wang Jing, the enigmatic businessman behind Nicaragua's $50 billion Interoceanic Grand Canal, shrugs off skepticism about how a little-known entrepreneur can be driving a huge transcontinental project, insisting he's not an agent of the Beijing government.
"I know you don't believe me," said Wang, who reckons that he's forked-out about $100 million in canal preparation work, and is burning as much as $10 million a month on the project.
"You believe there are people from the Chinese government in the background providing support. Why, in the end, is only Wang Jing out front?"
High-ranking Chinese officials including President Xi Jinping, Premier Li Keqiang and former leaders Jiang Zemin and Wen Jiabao have all visited the state-connected wireless communication technologies company Wang took control of four years ago.
Wang, whose entrepreneurism went mostly unnoticed in China and elsewhere before last year's Nicaragua announcement and a subsequent $3 billion Black Sea port development plan, has not helped matters by refusing to talk in detail about himself or broad swathes of his career.
During two interviews at the headquarters of Beijing Xinwei Telecom Technology Inc and in several follow-up emails, the 41-year-old Wang discussed Nicaragua, Beijing Xinwei's recent deal to undertake the biggest reverse takeover in Chinese stock market history and his background, providing fresh details to a life that remains mysterious.
"I was born in December 1972 in Beijing," said Wang. "All these years I've lived a very ordinary life."
Wang grabbed global headlines last June when he sealed a controversial no-bid 50-year renewable concession from Nicaragua's Sandinista government to develop the $50 billion canal to rival Panama's, and related facilities.
Nicaragua preparation is on schedule, Wang said. In January, he and President Daniel Ortega issued a joint statement to address what Wang described as "misleading reports" that the start of construction would be delayed.
The proposed scope is enormous, comprising construction of a waterway that may extend 130 miles, depending on the route selected, along with two ports, a railway, oil pipeline, and an international airport.
The canal would be longer, deeper and wider than the Panama Canal, about 500 miles to the southeast.
View gallery

Wang Jing, Chairman and CEO of Xinwei Telecom Enterprise Groups and Chairman and CEO of HK Nicaragua …

The scale of the project has led some to suggest it could only be viable with the backing of the Chinese government, which might see it as a geopolitical play to balance U.S. influence in Central America.
"I can't imagine (Wang) would have gone forward without at least coordinating with the Chinese government," said R Evan Ellis, assistant professor for Hemispheric Defense Studies at National Defense University in Washington. "Big Chinese companies just don't parachute down into Latin America."
The project, Ellis estimates, may provide China with commercial leverage over key Latin American governments and local companies, which may prove crucial to guarantee trade routes and access to raw materials.
"How the project ends will likely depend on the government of the People's Republic of China," he said.
For Wang, who can make a small fortune from licensing arrangements alone, the project represents a perilous highwire act. The ocean-connecting waterway has been criticized as the proverbial white elephant, while Wang has been ridiculed in the global press for lacking experience developing or financing big infrastructure.
Wang only established Hong Kong Nicaragua Canal Development Investment Co (HKND) in August 2012 and opened offices in Hong Kong's premier International Financial Center weeks ahead of the June 2013 announcement.
Nicaraguan opposition politicians also question Wang's commitment to addressing social and environmental issues, particularly how the proposed project may affect Lake Nicaragua, an important freshwater source in the region.
Wang has brought in international specialists to help quell concerns. McKinsey & Co was hired to conduct an economic feasibility study, while Environmental Resources Management Ltd is conducting an environmental and social impact study for the various routes under consideration.
SBE, the Belgium-based civil engineering firm specializing in canal hydraulics, and MEC Mining, the Australia-based engineering consultancy also have been hired. Washington consultancy McLarty Associates and law firm Kirkland & Ellis also were contracted.
As many as 400 engineers and technicians of different nationalities are currently working on a canal feasibility study, Nicaragua's Canal Authority head Manuel Coronel Kautz told Reuters. There are between 600 and 700 people working on the project, Wang said.
McKinsey & Co infrastructure partner Stefan Matzinger declined to answer questions. ERM regional chief David McArthur, McLarty Associate's managing partner Stephen Donehoo and Kirkland & Ellis partner Chuan Li did not respond to emails or telephone calls.
View gallery

Wang Jing, Chairman and CEO of Xinwei Telecom Enterprise Groups and Chairman and CEO of HK Nicaragua …

Financing is a thornier issue.
Wang, who may be prepared to spend as much as $300 million of his own cash, said that he will use a combination of cross-shareholding, bank lending and debt issuance to raise the estimated $50 billion needed to finance the project.
Five international groups had already agreed to invest in the project, he added. "We have not only signed memorandum-of-understanding, we are working on final preparations for executable, irrevocable contracts," he said.
On April 23, Xugong Group Construction Machinery Co. , one of China's biggest construction equipment manufacturers, announced it had reached a framework agreement to take a 1.5 to 3 percent stake in Wang's development company.
No dollar amount was attached to the investment, which also would make Xugong the sole supplier of engineering equipment to the canal project. More announcements are expected in the coming weeks, Wang said.
Other companies that may participate in an international consortium include state conglomerate China Railway Construction Corp. , China's biggest overseas engineering contractor, which is one of Wang's strategic partners that has been brought in to help with feasibility studies. Wang said that he has spoken with Chinese state-owned banks but would not say whether any would provide financing.
"I want to point out that it isn't going to take $50 billion in cash to do this," Wang said.
Wang's other big infrastructure project, a $3 billion plan to build a deepwater port on the Black Sea about 60 km (35 miles) north of Sevastopol, is facing greater uncertainty.
In December, Wang announced the agreement between HKND and an unknown Ukrainian firm during a visit to Beijing by Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovich, who was ousted two months later. A photograph captures Wang at the time talking about the port project with Yanukovich and China's Vice Premier Ma Kai. The port site is located in the middle of the Crimean peninsula that has been annexed by Russia.
By February, 20 HKND workers had completed their site inspection work and were forced to return to China.
"We're still confident, but given the current complexity of the Ukraine situation, in terms of our procedures, our schedule and our rhythm, we will need to replan," Wang said.
Wang looks flush with cash - at least on paper. His main asset is a 36.97 percent stake in Beijing Xinwei, the government-backed developer of China's wireless communications standard that now specializes in mobile network development and products. Beijing Xinwei in March estimated its assets at 26.89 billion yuan.
Separately, Wang controls Hong Kong Nicaragua Development Co, a Hong Kong registered firm, through mainland-registered Beijing Interoceanic Canal Investment Management Co, according to filings with the Shanghai Stock Exchange and Hong Kong Companies Registry.
Wang also reports full ownership of several offshore subsidiaries, including seven Netherlands firms related to the Nicaragua project; a British Virgin Islands-registered aircraft investment company, and media and sports entities, all of which were registered within the last year.
He owns Southeast Asia (Cambodia) Agriculture Development Group Inc, which was registered in Cambodia in September 2009, according to Shanghai Stock Exchange filings.
Less is known about Wang's path to success. The youthful chief executive refused to discuss his family background, saying only that his father was an ordinary office worker and died in 2010 following an 11-year illness; his mother, who is about 70 years old, is retired; and that he has a daughter.
"It's that simple," said Wang. "I'm very ordinary."
Wang says he studied at Jiangxi University of Traditional Chinese Medicine but left before graduation, returning years later to organize Beijing Changping Traditional Health and Culture School.
In the late 1990s, Wang said he traveled to Hong Kong to learn about international finance and investment. He returned to Beijing in 1998 and founded Dingfu Investment Consulting Co. In Hong Kong, Wang also established Hong Kong Divine (Dingfu) Investment Group Ltd in 2001.
He later mined gold and precious stones in Cambodia - a process he described as slow and exacerbated by the legacy of past wars - and opened Yingxi Construction and Engineering Co, a small contractor that participated in projects in Beijing, Tianjin and Guangdong. Available information about these firms is scarce.
Wang declined to elaborate on the source of his wealth. "China has an expression 'the finest fragments of fox fur, sewn together, will make a robe', the meaning of which is a fortune is accumulated over time," he said.
  wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

Location: front left seat EE set now departed
The route proposed by Chinese group HKND for Nicaragua's US$40bn inter-oceanic canal has raised concerns from several environmental organizations.

HKND announced the design for the project, which seeks to compete with the Panama Canal, but has yet to carry out an environmental impact study, according to a report from Uruguayan newspaper La Red 21.

The route between the Brito river estuary on the Pacific coast and Punta Águila port on the opposte coast could lead to further deforestation of the Mesoamerican Biological Corridor, encroachment into indigenous communities, and the contamination of Nicaragua's largest freshwater source, Lake Nicaragua, said the report.

The route calls for the removal of 400,000ha of forests and wetlands, La Red 21 said.

Since being approved into law in June 2013, the project has endured several delays, and garnered support and opposition.

HKND was awarded a 50-year concession to develop and operate the 278km canal. The project includes a new airport, highways, free trade zones, and a tourist complex.
  wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

Location: front left seat EE set now departed
Managua (AFP) - A Chinese firm hired to dig a canal across Nicaragua linking the Caribbean and the Pacific said it has begun assessing property and land that will have to expropriated and people who will be displaced.
Work on the $40 billion, 278-km (172 miles) project to rival the Panama Canal is scheduled to begin late this year.
The company HK Nicaragua Canal Development Investment said in a statement that another firm, Changjiang Institute of Survey, Planning, Design and Research, will carry out the study with the help of the Nicaraguan government and army.
President Daniel Ortega has said the project will create enough work to help alleviate poverty that affects more than half the population of this Central American country.
But environmentalists are worried, in particular about the effects of ship traffic on a lake that is along the path of the planned canal. Lake Cocibolca is the largest freshwater body in Central America.
  wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

Location: front left seat EE set now departed
Russian companies are reportedly interested in meeting with Chinese concessionaire HKND to participate in the construction of Nicaragua's US$40bn inter-oceanic canal.

The firms want to learn more about the project and how they can bid in works tenders, the head of investment promotion agency ProNicaragua, Laureano Ortega Murillo, told local paper El Pueblo Presidente.

Companies from the Netherlands, Denmark, Germany and France have also expressed their interest in the project.

The canal, to be developed and operated by HKND, has met with both domestic and international opposition. At one point, the start of works was postponed to 2015 before the government backtracked and reaffirmed that construction would begin in December this year, as originally planned.

HKND is currently preparing feasibility studies for the 278km canal. Construction is expected to be completed in 2019.
  wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

Location: front left seat EE set now departed

Map by Richard Demler for ENR
A canal across Nicaragua would shave 500 miles off the shipping route between New York and Los Angeles.
The idea of an interoceanic waterway through Nicaragua is far older than the existing, 100-year-old Panama Canal. For centuries, Spanish conquistadors, modern-day diplomats and others have floated proposals to build a route through Nicaragua—even early U.S. proponents of a Central American canal project originally favored Nicaragua over Panama.

The transit time to ship goods across Nicaragua would be longer than that of Panama, but the overall voyage would provide savings. That’s because the route would shave more than 500 miles off a trip from New York City to Los Angeles, a fact not lost on global shippers—including Maersk Line, one of the world’s biggest—that are supporting a Chinese company’s $50-billion proposal to build the canal.
"Building a Nicaragua Canal seems to make good sense,” Keith Svendsen, vice president of the Danish transportation company told industry website earlier this year. What’s more, Panama cannot yet handle the world’s largest ocean vessels, even with its current third-lane expansion, he noted. Russia President Vladimir Putin has also publicly expressed support of the route.

Backed by Hong Kong-based developer HKND Group, proponents envision digging and dredging a 173-mile route that stretches from the Pacific side, at Brito, to the Caribbean Sea. The route would extend more than three times longer than the Panama Canal, but much of it would cover inland waterways, such as Lake Nicaragua, which would require dredging to accommodate such large vessels as container ships and oil tankers.

The developer, which last year was granted a concession to build and operate the canal for up to 100 years, has pledged support of the project without government funds from Beijing. Chinese entrepreneur Wang Jing, the firm’s chairman, has also promised to back the canal project with economic rather than geopolitical or military interests in mind.

“I know you don’t believe me,” Wang told Reuters this past May. “You believe there are people from the Chinese government in the background providing support. Why, in the end, is only Wang Jing out front?”

Project partners currently include feasibility consultant China Railway Construction Corp. and lead designer China Railway Siyuan Survey and Design Group. Other early-phase project participants include McKinsey & Co. and Environmental Resources Management Ltd.

According to HKND, the project will require excavating some 5 billion cubic yards of earth and rock, which it expects to start this December and complete in five years. Chinese manufacturer XCMG has been retained to provide equipment exclusively for that effort, while project officials have been consulting with Australian mining companies to map out methods to chew away at the land’s complex topography.

Construction and engineering experts agree that the risks are huge for a project whose cost estimate exceeds Nicaragua’s own gross domestic product by more than a factor of four.

“Like any megaproject, they exaggerate the benefits and underestimate the costs,” says Jean-Paul Rodrigue, a professor at Hofstra University who studies global transportation issues. “It might break ground, but at some point in time I think it is going to financially collapse.” This month, people in Nicaragua’s have been protesting the project, fearing loss of land, environmental disaster and other concerns.
  wanderer53 Sir Nigel Gresley

Location: front left seat EE set now departed
Preparatory construction works on Nicaragua's controversial US$40bn inter-oceanic canal will get underway on December 24, according to a government source.
"The Nicaraguan people will get a big Christmas present," Paul Oquist, a close adviser to President Daniel Ortega, said in an interview with British newspaper the Guardian. Works are set to begin on construction of roads and a wharf, he added.
Chinese company HKND – which last year was awarded a 50-year concession to develop and operate the inter-oceanic shipping canal – will spend some US$900mn on feasibility studies, Oquist said. Consulting firms including London-based Environmental Resource Management and McKinsey contributed to prefeasibility studies and would continue with the feasibility studies.

"No one makes a US$900mn bet without information, so you think they must have pretty good information from the pre-feasibility studies that this is going to work out," he was quoted as saying.
Other areas to be developed under the concession include a dry canal served by a railway line, free trade zones on the country's Pacific and Caribbean coasts, an international airport and two deepwater ports.

The preparatory works are to get things ready for when the final green light is given, as any delay to the five-year timeline would result in costly interest payments on loans of billions of dollars, Oquist said.
However, the project has not been without its detractors. Environmental activists claim that works on the canal would affect Nicaragua's water quality and supply, while others claim that the concession award lacked transparency. Others fear that Nicaragua – which received US$1.5bn in FDI last year – would be unprepared to receive or deal with such a sizeable investment.
If it sees the light of day, Nicaragua's inter-oceanic canal would compete directly with Panama's legendary 100-year-old canal.

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