Panama signs loan deal for canal extension

Panama City  - The Panama Canal Authority signed a series of agreements Tuesday, securing loans totalling 2.3 billion dollars to finance the expansion of the the canal.

Canal Authority head Alberto Aleman Zubieta signed loan contracts with several development banks, including the European Investment Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the Bank of Japan, the International Finance Corporation and the Andean Development Corporation.

"Today we have reached a major milestone for both the canal and our country. The support of these major lenders for the largest infrastructure project in Latin America is truly encouraging and inspiring. Thank you for the trust and confidence you have demonstrated for Panama," Aleman Zubieta said.

The project to widen the 80-kilometre-long canal is scheduled to start next year, to be completed by 2014. Total costs are estimated 5.2 billion dollars.

The only waterway linking the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans is too narrow for large modern freighters. Two new lock systems are to make passage of container ships holding up to 12,600 containers possible.

Built in 1914, the canal's old locks can only hold ships carrying about 4,000 containers.

This year, Panama earned about 2 billion dollars in passage fees. A cruise line has to pay about 300,000 dollars for the eight-hour passage. (dpa)

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