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Nicaragua Canal update

New waterway still at preliminary stage

By John Tavner


The project which the Chinese concessionaires have dubbed the Nicaragua Interoceanic Grand Canal is still very much in the preliminary stages, with no definite word of a start date for construction.

The plan is to build a 278 km canal – three and a half times as long as the Panama Canal – from Punta Gorda on the Caribbean coast to the mouth of the River Brito on the Pacific. Cost of construction has been put at US$ 40 to 50 billion and it will take six to 10 years to complete.

The project was due to get under way in December 2014. So why has there been so little activity to date?


HKND Group – the Chinese company which has been awarded the contract to build the new canal – said in a company statement on 21 September that it had been “under international scrutiny” and that the project “had aroused heated discussions including positive expectations, objective considerations and also doubts and pessimism”.

In an interview, Pang Kwok Wai, executive vice president of HKND, said: “Nicaragua Canal is the largest civil engineering project in history. We must ensure project safety, a smooth resettlement program and environmental sustainability to promote Nicaragua’s social and economic evolvement for the benefit of its people. Therefore, we must step up our efforts in preliminary study and logistic support before kicking off major works. In this regard, HKND announced the commencement of access road construction last December, where we already completed upgrading of local roads leading to the port and lock on the Pacific side.

“In May we have completed the ESIA [environmental and social impact assessment] study and handed it over to the Nicaragua authority for their internal review and approval.”


Aerial survey

An aerial survey of the canal route and Lake Nicaragua shoreline is to be carried out by CSA Global, an international geological and resource consultancy based in Perth, Western Australia, which signed an agreement on 19 August with HKND Group at its head office in Hong Kong.

The survey consists of aerial mapping of topography, photography and geophysical and geological data. HKND senior adviser John Murray said: “The survey is a major step in the construction development process and supports pre-works planning, design and engineering for the canal and infrastructure.”

CSA Global will use advanced PPP (precise point positioning) technology to carry out the survey. The airborne laser radar is able to penetrate the dense forests and detect clearly the actual topography and surface water. When it is applied to the Lake Nicaragua section, the lakebed topography of 8.0 to 10.0 meters below the surface can be displayed with detail.

The survey will cover a 10 km wide swathe along the 276 km canal route and the 2 km wide circumference of Lake Nicaragua. The survey was expected to commence in September 2015 with completion by March 2016.