Commentary by Paul Watson
Founder and President of Sea Shepherd Conservation Society
On October 31st, Sea Shepherd Conservation Society Founder and President Captain Paul Watson was interviewed live on the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's national morning radio program The Current. Captain Watson's interview followed after interviews of Dr. Ricaurte Vasquez, the chairman of the Board for the Panama Canal Authority, and Minister of Canal Affairs and Mario Alonso Icabalceta, the President of the Grand Inter-Oceanic Nicaragua Canal Commission.
At issue is the expansion plans for the Panama Canal and the plan to build an even larger canal in Nicaragua.
The interview can be heard at this link: http://www.cbc.ca/thecurrent/2006/200610/20061031.html
Sea Shepherd is opposed to both the expansion plans by Panama and to the plans to build a new canal in Nicaragua.
The waters of Lake Gatun are already being severely taxed to operate the Panama Canal as it is. Larger, deeper, wider locks mean more fresh water usage. Panama says it will be using less water in what Vasquez describes as "European technology."
"I would like to see just what kind of technology can accomplish using less water with deeper, wider, longer locks," commented Captain Watson. "The Panama canal is just fine the way it is. It just needs to be properly maintained - something Panama has not been doing very efficiently. The world does not need bigger container ships and with rising oil prices, these ships are impractical. A mega expenditure of billions of dollars by a poor country like Panama can end up backfiring if there is a collapse in large ship building as there inevitably will be."
Although Nicaragua would have made more sense originally for the placement of the Canal, politics intervened and the Canal was constructed and completed in Panama after a U.S.-engineered revolution in Colombia and the lives of over 10,000 workers were lost.
"I value the Panama Canal and we have transited the canal some fifteen times since 1981," Captain Watson said. "I have also seen a steady decay of the infrastructure over the last two decades. The U.S. did not run the Canal for a profit and spent as much maintaining it as they collected in revenues. Panama has spent less on maintenance and increased the fees. I think that Panamanians are now being sold a bill of goods with a fantasy that an expenditure of $6 billion will give them a bigger revenue source. That $6 billion will quickly inflate to $12 billion or more before the project is completed and in the end the Canal will be more costly to run and more expensive to transit with the very real possibility that the ecosystem of and around Lake Gatun will not be able to provide the vast amounts of fresh water required for continuous operation of larger locks. My prediction is that this expansion will be an ecological and economic disaster for Panama."