Forgot your password?
typodupeerror
Transportation China Politics

Nicaragua Gives Chinese Firm Contract To Build Alternative To Panama Canal 323

Posted by timothy
from the now-there's-a-weekend-project dept.
McGruber writes with this news from late last week: "The Guardian is reporting that 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 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."
This discussion has been archived. No new comments can be posted.

Nicaragua Gives Chinese Firm Contract To Build Alternative To Panama Canal

Comments Filter:
  • Short on details (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Rob the Bold (788862) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @08:32AM (#43972411)

    The story is short on details, the Spanish language op ed referred to in TFA indicates the canal would run through Lake Nicaragua. This route has been considered since before the US-dug canal through Panama. I could potentially be a sea-level canal, which would be a major plus, but which would radically alter the Lake. Either way, it'd be a big deal for shipping and save thousands of miles and tons of fuel for ships bigger than whatever they're calling the latest "Panamax." It seems to me the ports of New Orleans and Mobile in the US would benefit, perhaps also Atlantic ports in Europe.

    • by oodaloop (1229816) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @08:37AM (#43972481)

      I could potentially be a sea-level canal

      So, lose some weight? I guess?

    • Re:Short on details (Score:4, Informative)

      by ibwolf (126465) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @08:55AM (#43972709)

      ... could potentially be a sea-level canal...

      No it couldn't. the surface of Lake Nicaragua [wikipedia.org] is 32.7 meters above sea level. Its maximum depth is 26 meters. If you connect it to the sea without locks, it will empty out entirely.

      The only way to make this work is to use locks, same as with the Panama canal.

      The advantage here is that you will not need to accommodate any traffic during construction.

      • by ArsonSmith (13997)

        except that just a quick look at google maps, Panama is slight more than 20 miles across, even with the lake Nicaragua would have to dig more than 60 miles of canal to get across.

    • Re:Short on details (Score:5, Informative)

      by Grizzley9 (1407005) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @08:58AM (#43972753)

      which would radically alter the Lake

      Indeed since it is a freshwater lake, the ecosystem would undergo quite a change but currently it's being "attacked" by tons of sewage pumped into it each day. Lake Nicaragua [wikipedia.org]

    • by Dcnjoe60 (682885)

      The story is short on details, the Spanish language op ed referred to in TFA indicates the canal would run through Lake Nicaragua. This route has been considered since before the US-dug canal through Panama. I could potentially be a sea-level canal, which would be a major plus, but which would radically alter the Lake. Either way, it'd be a big deal for shipping and save thousands of miles and tons of fuel for ships bigger than whatever they're calling the latest "Panamax." It seems to me the ports of New Orleans and Mobile in the US would benefit, perhaps also Atlantic ports in Europe.

      Shipping from Asia, to the Southeast US doesn't make a lot of economical sense when you can transfer cargo containers on the West Coast of the US or even Mexico and transfer them by rail. Assuming the transfer operation takes the same time regardless of the port, the rail travel is comparable to sea and more fuel efficient. In addition, since regardless of the port in question (West or East coast), the port is not the final destination and often the goods are transferred by rail or truck a substantial dist

      • by C0R1D4N (970153)
        The US rail infrastructure could not remotely handle the amount of cargo that has to move. We are dependent on big trucks for cross country shipping because of it. Getting a country like nicaragua to approve the canal is orders of magnitude easier than convincing every local govt in the US to let you run new rails through it (on the east coast lots of rail lines are being torn up for bike paths)
        • by Dcnjoe60 (682885) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @11:01AM (#43974495)

          The US rail infrastructure could not remotely handle the amount of cargo that has to move. We are dependent on big trucks for cross country shipping because of it. Getting a country like nicaragua to approve the canal is orders of magnitude easier than convincing every local govt in the US to let you run new rails through it (on the east coast lots of rail lines are being torn up for bike paths)

          Then we are in a world of hurt, because there are not enough highways and more importantly drivers for big trucks. To expand rail capacity does not require local govt approval. The railroads already own the right of away. Convincing them to spend billions of dollars without a taxpayer subsidy like trucking and shipping gets (who builds those highways and ports?), now that is a different story. Where local govt comes in is when cities expand to where the railroad is and they want the railroad to move. But that is a little bit like people who build housing near an airport and complain about the noise.

          Studies have shown that the most efficient land based cargo transport is rail for long distance with truck for the last 250 miles. That would mean the train stops only every 500 miles or so. If you notice what the railroads have been doing post-regulation, that is exactly what they have been working towards for the past 40 years. Modern railroading is not what our parents and grand parents grew up with.

        • Re:Short on details (Score:4, Informative)

          by Wookact (2804191) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @02:05PM (#43977011)
          They are not being torn up just for bike paths, they have been abandoned by the rail companies, who then allow local municipalities to use the rights of way for bike paths.

          Google rails to trails. It is a good project for rail lines that were not worth the upkeep to the railroads. This is not some sort of conspiracy to reduce rail capacity like your post implies.
    • by necro81 (917438)

      I could potentially be a sea-level canal

      Back in the 1960s and 70s, Edward Teller [wikipedia.org] (the so-called "father of the hydrogen bomb") advocated using nuclear exposives to undertake massive civil works projects, called Operation Plowshare [wikipedia.org]. One of the blue-sky thoughts was blasting a sea-level canal clear across the Central America.

  • Finally (Score:5, Informative)

    by wcrowe (94389) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @08:33AM (#43972429)

    I've been waiting to hear about this for years. It should be quite a project. Wikipedia has a map [wikipedia.org] for those interested.

    • I wonder if they will resurrect the idea of “Pan-Atomic Canal”.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nicaragua_canal [wikipedia.org]

      Basically, you just need a few atomic devices to carve out a new canal. I assume China has a few laying around and that the who thing would only take a few months to construct.

      • Re:Finally (Score:4, Insightful)

        by alexander_686 (957440) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @08:50AM (#43972651)

        Replying to my own post – I copied OP link, not Operation Plowshare’s link. Here it is.

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Plowshare [wikipedia.org]

      • by dbIII (701233)
        Wasn't there a nuclear test in 1970 in Alaska that showed such use of nukes to dig holes was not only not as effective as expected but also incredibly fucking stupid?
        • There was a planned test to dig a harbor (which is kind of like a big hole) in Alaska but it never happened. Ergo all objections are theoretical.

          http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Operation_Chariot_(1958) [wikipedia.org]

          (I might have to take that back. I think the USSR did something similar. Made a really pretty lake, if I recall, but they could never keep it stocked with fish. But I can’t find a link so it might be my imagination.)

          • Re:Finally (Score:4, Informative)

            by telchine (719345) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @09:15AM (#43973011)

            I think the USSR did something similar. Made a really pretty lake, if I recall, but they could never keep it stocked with fish. But I can’t find a link so it might be my imagination.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Chagan [wikipedia.org]

          • by dbIII (701233)
            Wikipedia has a list of the tests - the year you are looking for is 1970 - location, Alaska (both as mentioned above). It didn't move much dirt.
            It appears I should not have posed it as a rhetorical question since that appears to be too subtle for readers here, which is fair enough reading it casually late at night or something.
          • by niado (1650369)

            (I might have to take that back. I think the USSR did something similar. Made a really pretty lake, if I recall, but they could never keep it stocked with fish. But I can’t find a link so it might be my imagination.)

            You are thinking of Lake Chagan, [wikipedia.org] part of the "Nuclear Explosions for the National Economy" [wikipedia.org] project that Russia did.

            It does seem to be quite pretty. [staticflickr.com]

        • by Nutria (679911)

          No. It would have happened in the early 1960s, but was canceled over strong local opposition and no real economic need for a port at Cape Thompson.

          • by Anonymous Coward

            From the Wiki: ... Project Chariot, which would have used several hydrogen bombs to create an artificial harbor at Cape Thompson, Alaska. It was never carried out due to concerns for the native populations and the fact that there was little potential use for the harbor to justify its risk and expense....

            Government Man: "We're going to build a new harbor for you!"
            Inuit: "No want harbor. Want seals"
            GM: "Look, this harbor will be really neat. It will be a big hole in the ground next to the sea where ships can

        • by Virtucon (127420)

          NO.

          That was a stupid idea of Dr. Edward Teller and others. This paper is a fascinating look at how stupid of a plan it was and although they didn't do full scale nuclear testing, they did import fallout into Alaska from Nevada. [uconn.edu]

          Edward Teller toured the territory of Alaska in the summer of 1958 to promote his dream of "engaging in the great art of geographic engineering, to reshape the earth to your pleasure." He told the curious Alaskans that they were "the most reasonable people," that the atomic scientists had "looked at the whole world" for just the right location to test their technology. He flattered them, saying that "Anything new that is big needs big people in order to get going..., and big people are found in big states ." He boasted that the Atomic Energy Commission (the predecessor to the Energy Research and Development Administration, and now the Department of Energy) could "dig a harbor in the shape of a polar bear, if required." He further boasted that "If your mountain is not in the right place, just drop us a card." (Coates, 1989).

          It's no small wonder that Kubrik patterned Dr. Strangelove after Teller. One quote sums it up by Isador Rabi [aps.org]about Teller as well:

          "He is a danger to all that is important. I do think it would have been a better world without Teller. I think he is an enemy of humanity."

          We did have the Sedan shot which was part of Plowshare but it made a nice big hole in Nevada.

          The Soviets with their Peaceful Nuclear Explosions (PNE) d

  • Look at a map of Nicaragua. It's at least twice if not 3x as wide as Panama at its thinnest point. What an unbelievably stupid idea, not to mention how stupid it is to completely cut your country in half.
    • by oodaloop (1229816) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @08:40AM (#43972517)
      It's a shame China didn't consult with you first then. You could have saved them a lot of trouble by telling them it was stupid. So in order to allow super tankers, which are too big for the Panama Canal, where would have built an additional, wider canal?
    • Re:it's too wide (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Rich0 (548339) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @08:42AM (#43972545) Homepage

      not to mention how stupid it is to completely cut your country in half.

      Yeah, that MIssisippi river forces people to ride thousands of miles further to take their horses from Mississippi to Texas. Oh wait, they've been building bridges and fording rivers since before the colonial era?

      Sure, it is a longer route than Panama, but I suspect the shipping volumes are large enough that it might be profitable. China is likely viewing this strategically - they've been taking the long view far more than the US in recent years, with the exceptions of their environmental policy and the US willingness to invest in blowing things up.

      • by Gothmolly (148874)

        China manages its people like property, like a herd, thats why they take the long view. The US, in theory, is just a group of people who choose to live together.

      • Hell China probably stole the plans for the canal from US contractors ;-)
      • Re:it's too wide (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Dunbal (464142) * on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @10:06AM (#43973681)
        Of course China is being strategic. I live in Costa Rica, where Xi Jinping just visited before going to the US, and right next to Nicaragua. China has been very generous to these small latin countries, donating stadiums, highways and bridges. Like the US used to do back in the bad old days. The US nowadays though only threatens. Threatens will sanctions, threatens with cutting aid programs, etc. Guess who is popular and who isn't in latin America now? China has pretty much bought Africa and S. America. I wonder where the US seeks to expand its economy in the future - oh yeah, they don't make anything anymore anyway.
        • by operagost (62405)
          The US government spent $1.3 billion in Latin America in 2010 [usaid.gov]. That's not counting the billions spent by a myriad of humanitarian organizations. Regardless, I don't think you should be judging countries based on their handouts. If only you were so critical of your own productivity and politics.
        • by Solandri (704621)

          China has been very generous to these small latin countries, donating stadiums, highways and bridges. Like the US used to do back in the bad old days. The US nowadays though only threatens. Threatens will sanctions, threatens with cutting aid programs, etc. Guess who is popular and who isn't in latin America now?

          So China is the good guy for previously giving nothing, then giving something. But the U.S. is the bad guy for previously giving something, but considering giving less?

          Your problem is you're as

    • Re:it's too wide (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Rob the Bold (788862) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @08:43AM (#43972551)

      Look at a map of Nicaragua. It's at least twice if not 3x as wide as Panama at its thinnest point. What an unbelievably stupid idea, not to mention how stupid it is to completely cut your country in half.

      In the US, our country is "completely cut in half" by a naturally occurring canal, if you will. We've used a technologies known as the "bridge" and "ferry" to deal with that. Nicaragua could probably do the same.

      Also note that part of that distance through Nicaragua is already water: Lake Nicaragua. Every plan ever for a canal through that region -- going back to the 19th century -- has included the lake in the route.

      • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

        by slashmydots (2189826)
        I didn't know Chinese super tankers came down the Mississippi River daily, thus making it ungodly expensive to create bridges high enough to let them pass under and effectively turning the average distance between bridges to 10x what it would be if only smaller boats passed down it. That never came up in Huck Finn apparently.
        • Re:it's too wide (Score:4, Interesting)

          by cdrudge (68377) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @09:06AM (#43972885) Homepage

          Nicaragua apparently doesn't even have a paved road that stretches from one coast to the other. I'm not sure how much of an issue it would be to build a $40b canal that has a few tall bridges, or those new fangled draw bridges every so often to handle what must be a huge amount of traffic in the area.

          • by jabuzz (182671)

            Might be cheaper to do cut and cover tunnels while you are actually constructing the canal.

          • by Hadlock (143607)

            Most countries don't have paved roads (certainly not larger than a 2 lane country road) that run their length or width. Manaus, a major Brazilian port is only accessible by air and sea for most of the year (rainy season). The concept of a national highway system outside of the US and Europe is virtually unknown.

            I missed my plane out of Colombia last year due to a mudslide on the largest road between the two largest cities (8 million and 3 million) in the country, it was one lane in each direction. T

        • by Shatrat (855151)

          Most of the area this canal would be built through is jungle with no roads anyway, there would only be a need for a few bridges on the east coast and a few bridges on the west coast.

    • Re:it's too wide (Score:4, Interesting)

      by TWX (665546) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @08:44AM (#43972575)
      You know, it's a hell of a lot easier to carve a relatively flat channel over a long distance than it is to build lock after lock and to maintain all those pumps...

      And as for cutting one's country in half, that's what bridges and tunnels are for.

      I don't think that the Chinese will succeed for the same reasons why the French and other European nations didn't succeed initially in Panama. The Panama canal took a national interest to construct, not a corporate interest, and was driven in large part by our nation having two coasts with a whole lot of distance in between, and by our "Manifest Destiny" doctrine. Simple economic interests operated by a corporation may not be able to pull it off, especially if that corporation is there only for that purpose, as problems along the way will make it very hard to raise capital when investors don't think that their investment will pay off.

      If they do manage to pull it off, great! There will be uses for the Panama Canal even if it receives less traffic than the new one, decades from now when it's finished.
      • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

        by dpilot (134227)

        Multiple comments...

        As fustakrakich says, no pumps needed. Need more water in the lock, get it from the higher water level side. Need less, give it to the lower water level side. As a kid, we went to a fishing camp along the Trent Waterway system in Ontario, Ca. I've had the now-rare experience of walking in circles, pushing the handles that operated the valves and doors of the locks. At that time it was fully manual, these days it's all electric. As for technology, I've also been on and to the Peterb

      • your post is absolutely correct but misses one point. China _is_ currently in the midst of its Manifest Destiny (empire expansion) period
    • Look at a map of Nicaragua.

      You first, since it's clear you didn't actually look at a detailed map.

      If you look at an actual map of Nicaragua, what you will see is that there is a gigantic body of water called Lake Nicaragua that covers about half the width of the country. Look a little harder and you'll see a series of major rivers connecting Lake Nicaragua (which sits mostly on the western part of the country) with the Caribbean Sea to the east. As a result, any of the canals that have ever been proposed in Nicaragua make use of the

  • by Russ1642 (1087959) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @08:44AM (#43972559)
    If it only takes them a hundred years and a trillion dollars it'll be a miracle. And here's a tip: bring in the French first. After they fail everyone will want to help you out because apparently nothing's more satisfying than beating the French at something.
    • Isnt that much...we spent a trillion dollars on the war in iraq we spent another trillion on stimulus. Imagine if we had spent a trillion rebuilding all our roads, rails, schools, hospitals and ports. Efficiency in infrastructure adds to long term economic growth which increases tax revenue.

    • by Virtucon (127420)

      That and creating nations to allow you to build your canal. First you find a bunch of mal-contents, arm them and then when they revolt you recognize their little area as an independent nation. They then sign a treaty giving you perpetual control and you can start digging. [millercenter.org]

      In 1901, the United States negotiated with Britain for the support of an American-controlled canal that would be constructed either in Nicaragua or through a strip of land—Panama—owned by Colombia. In a flourish of closed-door maneuvers, the Senate approved a route through Panama, contingent upon Colombian approval. When Colombia balked at the terms of the agreement, the United States supported a Panamanian revolution with money and a naval blockade, the latter of which prevented Colombian troops from landing in Panama. In 1903, the Hay-Bunau-Varilla Treaty with Panama gave the United States perpetual control of the canal for a price of $10 million and an annual payment of $250,000.

  • Apparently, there is a sea-level discrepancy of ~20cm between the Atlantic and Pacific sides of the Panama Canal. That's largely irrelevant; because it isn't a sea-level canal.

    If one were to build a sea-level canal across the area(or nearby), what would the effect be? Some initial flow quickly reaching equilibrium? A more-or-less-permanent(for human purposes, let's say a few centuries at least) flow? Would the erosive effects be substantial enough that part of the canal could dig itself, if an initial cut w

    • 20cm over hundreds of miles is not significant. You'd have more run down from surrounding hills adding to the water level than the inflow of one of the oceans. In essence, you'd have a river that would flow both ways. You probably still want locks though, if only to make sure that you don't have to dig your canal incredibly deep. It may be feasible to build the channel (mostly) at sea level, but there may still be some areas where placing a lock would save you so much money in digging that you can't ever ge
    • You'd have a current fighting tides. Probably end up with square waves like in British Columbia Canada west coast.
    • If the water was that keen to level out, wouldn't it have already piled round the open flank between Patagonia and Antarctica, i.e. round whichever cape it is?

  • So, a truly massive freshwater lake is about to be flooded with salt water. What about all the fish/creatures/plants that live there?
    • Re:but but but.... (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Will.Woodhull (1038600) <wwoodhull@gmail.com> on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @09:43AM (#43973359) Homepage Journal

      Since the lake is more than 100 feet above today's sea level, if it ever floods with salt water, there are not going to be many people left to worry about its ecology.

      Now hitchhiker organisms riding on the bottoms of the ships or in their ballast tanks are a reasonable concern. We can assume that inspection and cleaning facilities will be set up on both sides of the Nicaragua canal, since this kind of contamination is a well known problem. I expect that the Panama Canal has been retrofitted by now-- although maybe it is being treated as a lost cause.

  • buyer beware (Score:2, Interesting)

    by nimbius (983462)
    considering america had to basically create panama by blocking columbian troop movement with warships, and bribe its existing stationed troops already in place to lay down arms, id say china should reconsider the proposition being made. the US also had to support a pretty brutal dictator (Noriega) who routinely tortured and murdered his people, as well as fight a brief war to prevent a communist nationalization of the resource. For a country that prides itself on peaceful expansion and nonaggression [wikipedia.org] it ma
  • by edxwelch (600979) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @08:51AM (#43972659)

    You realise if the pull this off technically Costa Rica will become an island.

  • by voss (52565) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @08:56AM (#43972719)

    A china that is committed to trading with the world is not waging war. This is about shipping routes from China to Europe bypassing unstable africa and an even more unstable middle east. Its also about ships such as the maersk Triple E class 165,000 tons which is too big for any US port to handle but can be easily handled by ports in china and europe. This would shock americans but the Chinese of 700 years had ships bigger than any in Europe that could travel farther and were more advanced with magnetic compasses and watertight compartments.

  • uh (Score:3, Funny)

    by MickyTheIdiot (1032226) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @08:56AM (#43972727) Homepage Journal

    David Lee Roth is confused.

  • by TWiTfan (2887093) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @08:57AM (#43972741)

    We go to all that trouble to attempt an overthrow of the Nicaraguan government all through the 80's, and THIS is how they say thanks!

    Do you have any idea how much money we spent sending your people to college [wikipedia.org], you ungrateful bastards?

  • When you have 100s of millions of unemployed single males, you have a problem. They need busy work. It would be best for them if they shipped them all over with shovels and hand-dug the canal. They also need more countries enslaved to their cheap products in order to keep their factories going, again, because if you have 100s of millions of unemployed single males, you have a problem.

    • 100s of millions of unemployed single males...you have a problem

      Uhhhh, JERBS are the least of their problems.
      Unless they're going to work them 24/7, they need 100s of millions of wimmins . And these idiots keep aborting females. Unless China has the plans for the gay bomb. It's going to take a world war the likes we haven't seen to burn off that many unattached bachelors. Sexbots and VR porn only fulfill the basest needs and will only serve as a stopgap. (but what a market opportunity!!!)

  • Aside from it being a longer route, I thought one of the reasons they decided not to dig there was volcanism.

  • One challenge is the existing infrastructure. Would ports spend the money to handle mega-Panamax ships and can the rail infrastructure handle the increased freight. The ability to move freight beyond the port can be a big bottleneck.
  • by ArgonautThief (2611499) on Tuesday June 11, 2013 @10:55AM (#43974401)
    I work for a ship owner and order my vessels to transit via Panama quite often. To transit one of our smaller vessels (~30,000 DWT) it costs ~USD$90,000.00 and is one of the major costs calculated on our voyages, especially on a bad economic market. Despite the fact that ship owners are faced with a bad market, the PCA (Panama Canal Administration) keeps needlessly inflating the costs to transit at least once or twice per year. Our larger vessels can easily cost ~USD$200,000.00 and more to transit. The industry has long been awaiting some competition to mitigate these over-inflated costs and it is high time it materialised.
    • by rahvin112 (446269)

      There is a funny story about when the Panamanians took over the Canal they had a meeting with the Army to discuss revenue and in that meeting discovered that the tolls on the Canal barely covered the cost of operating the canal and that the entire military presence that maintained and administered the canal was supported by US taxpayers.

      To this date it is my understanding that even with the toll increases Panama makes very little money on the canal. The increases in tolls are to pay for the canal expansion.

The reason why worry kills more people than work is that more people worry than work.

Working...