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Nicaragua to dig Atlantic-Pacific canal

$18bn, 12-year project

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Nicaraguan president Enrique Bolaños has called for international backing for a Nicargua canal linking the Atlantic and Pacific which, he says, is "needed for the rise in world shipping".

Speaking to Western defence ministers in Managua, Bolaños said: "The galloping increase in world business demands another canal in addition to a widened Panama Canal."

Panamanians will, the BBC notes, vote on 22 October as to whether to widen sections of their own canal to allow the passage of larger vessels. Currently, the waterway can accommodate vessels carrying 4,000 containers. Under the proposals, this would increase to 10,000 containers.

The "Inter-Oceanic Nicaragua Canal", meanwhile, could host 250,000-ton ships - "significantly bigger than the vessels that currently pass through Panama".

The canal's cost has been estimated at $18bn (£9.5bn), with a construction schedule of 12 years. The proposed route is not noted, but would certainly pass through Lake Nicaragua, the second largest lake in Latin America.

The possibility of a Nicaragua canal has been examined many times. In 1826, the US backed a plan which was scuppered by the region's political instability and the Brits' control of the Caribbean Mosquito Coast.

In 1849, US businessman Cornelius Vanderbilt signed a contract with the Nicaraguan government to build a canal within 12 years. This scheme was sunk by an untimely civil war in the country.

Eventually, the US bought the French out of their uncompleted Panama canal project, and in 1902 the US Senate voted to ditch the Nicaragua route and proceed across Panama.

The Inter-Oceanic Nicaragua Canal faces its own set of problems. Whichever route is chosen (the likely candidates include from Bluefields on the Mosquito Coast, via the Rio Escondido and canal to Lake Nicaragua, or from San Juan del Norte, up the Rio San Juan to the lake) environmentalists are likely to kick up a hell of a fuss. ®

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