Building an inter-oceanic canal crossing Nicaragua "is closer than ever" and will markedly reduce travel time and costs for mega-ships, a Nicaraguan senior official said here Tuesday.
"The aim is to convert Nicaragua into an international maritime transport center for mega-ships that will be mainly responsible for maritime transport in the near future," Paul Oquist, executive director of the Nicaragua Grand Canal Commission, said during an event at the Council of the Americas in Washington.
Once completed, he emphasized, the time needed for one of these ships to sail from New Jersey to Shanghai will be reduced to two weeks, given that mega-ships are too big to transit the Panama Canal and currently have to sail around the southern tip of South America.
In his speech, Oquist emphasized Nicaragua's solid macroeconomic situation with annual economic growth averaging 5 percent since 2011.
The $50 billion canal project is being handled by China's HKND Group, which received a 50-year concession to build and operate the waterway.
Oquist said that there has been much disinformation regarding the project, especially concerning the environmental impact, adding that HKND had shown great interest in emphasizing "quality and cost reduction."
He said the project will displace 28,000 people living in the zone and that they will not be relocated "more than 12 kilometers (7.5 miles) from their original communities."
In addition, he said that HKND had made a commitment that half the labor force participating in the construction will be locals.
The project is enormous, Oquist said, with the investment representing more than four times Nicaragua's annual GDP, and it is estimated that during the construction phase it will employ 50,000 people.
This week, Nicaragua announced that Australia-based geological consultancy CSA Global will collaborate in defining the seismic risks to the canal as part of the feasibility studies.
The Nicaraguan canal will be three times larger than the one operating in Panama, winding 278 kilometers (173 miles) from the Pacific coastal town of Brito to the mouth of the Punta Gorda River on Nicaragua's Atlantic shore.
A significant portion of the canal route - 105 kilometers - runs through Lake Nicaragua.
The project is to include two deepwater ports, an airport, an artificial lake, two sets of locks, a tourist complex, a free-trade zone, roads and cement and steel factories, HKND Group says. EFE