(Corrects ambassador's name in second paragraph)
By Jose Elías Rodríguez
MADRID Jan 3 Spain's government is pushing for
talks to settle a dispute over $1.6 billion in cost overruns for
expanding the Panama Canal, a project led by Spanish builder
Sacyr, Spain's ambassador to Panama said on Friday.
Ambassador Jesus Silva told Spanish state radio that Public
Works Minister Ana Pastor and Sacyr Chairman Manuel Manrique may
visit Panama in the coming days.
"We're trying to get them to sit down for talks to see if
they can reach an agreement, and to make all sides understand
that everyone loses if the contract is terminated," Silva told
Spanish state radio.
The expansion will triple the size of ships that can ply the
canal, helping the small Central American nation compete in
global trade. It will affect shipping routes - for example
making it easier for cargo to move between Asia and the eastern
coasts of the Americas - and the cost of transporting
commodities and manufactured goods.
Silva said Sacyr stood to lose money on the contract - one
of its biggest - if the issue was not resolved, but said it
would be an "acceptable" loss.
Sacyr, Italy's Salini Impregilo, Belgium's Jan De
Nul and Panama's Constructora Urbana said on Wednesday the
overruns on the $3.2 billion project to build a third set of
locks along the canal should be met by Panama, and it would
suspend the work unless the authorities came up with a solution
within 21 days.
The project is more than two-thirds complete and is
scheduled to conclude in 2015.
The consortium said the overruns were due to unforeseen
events during construction that it deemed normal on such large
Sacyr blamed part of the cost overrun on materials included
in the original budget being declared inadequate during the
construction phase. For example, the Panama Canal Authority
(PCA) rejected the concrete mix the consortium had planned to
use, the company said.
The PCA dismissed the complaints by the consortium, known as
Grupo Unidos por el Canal.
"Regardless of what kind of pressure is put on the PCA, we
will maintain our demand that Grupo Unidos por el Canal respects
the contract that they themselves accepted and signed," the head
of the PCA, Jorge Quijano, said in a statement.
Shares in Sacyr fell sharply for a second straight session,
dropping 5.7 percent to 3.236 euros by 1204 GMT.
Panamanian President Ricardo Martinelli accused the
companies on Thursday of "great irresponsibility" and said they
had endangered the massive construction project, a major driver
of Panama's economy.
(Writing by Elisabeth O'Leary; editing by Fiona Ortiz and Tom