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Sacyr to claim up to €5.4 billion in Panama Canal cost overrun battle

Spanish-led consortium says this is top figure it will push for over project’s glitches and delays

In an ongoing dispute over cost overruns, the Spanish-led consortium that built the Panama Canal expansion has increased its claim to a maximum of $5.67 billion (€5.39 billion), according to the Canal Authority (ACP), the public body charged with operation and management of the waterway.

The Cocolí lock at Panama City.
The Cocolí lock at Panama City.

The Grupo Unidos por el Canal (GUPC) consortium, headed up by Spanish company Sacyr, was awarded the $3.2-billion project to expand the century-old canal in 2009 but works were hit by major delays, and costs were far higher than originally anticipated – a fact which threatens to make a serious dent in the profits of consortium members.

GUPC – which also includes Belgian, Italian and Panamanian companies – handed over the completed project involving some 11,000 workers on May 31, 2016 and operations began later that month.

GUPC says Panama provided it with inaccurate geological studies

But the contractors are now locked in a long-running legal dispute over cost overruns.

The new GUPC figure of $5.67 billion appears in an ACP annual report published in December and represents the maximum amount the contractors will claim, although the consortium has not yet stated how large its final claim will be.

According to the ACP on December 8, the GUPC group  made two new requests for arbitrage with the International Court of Arbitration in Miami. As a result of these requests, the amount claimed by GUPC had risen from $3.28 billion to an upper limit of $5.67 billion, the ACP report states.

Sources at Sacyr said the new maximum figure was provided because original contract conditions set a fixed time frame for making such claims after the start of canal operations. The company had made the demand so as not to lose the right to do so in future.

Excess expenditure on the canal project was caused by the quality of the basalt, unexpected problems with the terrain, strikes and regulatory changes. GUPC has also claimed that the Panamanian authorities provided it with inaccurate geological studies that downplayed the real building difficulties.

Before operations kicked off at the new canal, the ACP estimated that traffic would increase from 350 million tons a year to 600 million. Nearly 14,000 ships currently cross the canal annually, in a journey that takes between 18 and 20 hours.

English version by George Mills.

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