Spanish foreign minister seeks to end Panama Canal flap

Jan. 4, 2014 at 3:07 PM

PANAMA CITY, Panama, Jan. 4 (UPI) -- Spain said it dispatched its foreign minister to Panama Saturday to resolve a contract dispute that could halt the Panama Canal expansion project.

The massive project, led by the Spanish construction Sacyr, is an estimated $1.6 billion over budget. Sacyr and its consortium partners have threatened to stop work if the extra money is not paid by the Panama Canal Authority.

Foreign Minister Ana Pastor and Sacyr Chairman Manuel Manrique will meet with Panamanian officials, who have insisted the work continue without the extra $1.6 billion.

"Panama is a country that is close and friendly towards Spain, and we share the desire and interest to find a solution as soon as possible," a ministry spokesman said Friday.

Sacyr is expanding the third set of locks on the canal to accommodate cargo ships that carry 20,000 containers, the BBC said. The locks currently can handle ships carrying 5,000 containers.

The expansion of the canal began in 2009 and is scheduled for completion next year.

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