Panama City, February 28, 2002. – The Panama Canal under Panamanian administration has been “very proactive” in providing solutions to shipping, according to business and maritime industry leaders speaking at a maritime conference this week in Panama.

The conference, organized by the Panamanian maritime lawyers association and the Panama Chamber of Shipping, attracted more than 300 delegates from more than 30 countries from Asia, the Americas and Europe.

Panama Canal Authority (ACP) executives received praise from International Maritime Organization Secretary General William A. O’Neil, who remarked on a recent Canal presentation before London authorities regarding security and risk management at the waterway. O’Neil said the Panama Canal is a “vital artery for the world’s economy” and Panama has a “major responsibility” in maintaining high quality maritime services around the world regarding its flag-state services.

Canal Administrator Alberto Alemán Zubieta assured conference participants that the Canal is “working very hard and aiming very high” to make the waterway safer, more efficient and cost-effective for shipping.

Conference speaker José Vicente Pallares, from Ecuador’s Favorita Fruit Group, awarded the waterway “the highest grades” for its performance since its transfer to Panamanian stewardship in 1999. “Everything that was pledged in 1999 has been fulfilled.” Pallares noted that more than 80 percent of Ecuador’s economy relies on the Canal, particularly for banana and oil exports.

Panama Maersk Sealand Manager Hans Stig Moller noted that Maersk Sealand has filed less claims under Panamanian administration and is very satisfied with the new late fee included in the booking system, as it enables vessels to continue with transit plans despite late arrivals in Canal waters.

Alemán Zubieta pointed out that the waterway recently received ISO 9001 certification of its maritime operations and finalized the accelerated Culebra Cut widening projects, underscoring its commitment to becoming a cornerstone of the global transportation system. The Canal’s future expansion plans support Panama’s goal of becoming a leading regional transshipment hub, something that Alemán Zubieta said is “a matter of State that must transcend governments.”

The board of directors and senior executives of the ACP are meeting with the Panama Canal Authority Advisory Board, chaired by William A. O’Neil, today and tomorrow.