Panama Canal PR department is working overtime

The Panama Canal Authority’s newly bloated publicity department has now cranked out another in its meaningless series of press releases meant to convey the impression of activity (see last week’s blog on the subject). Following on the heels of a press release about a non-Canal-related drayage business in Panama, the PCA announced on Jan. 8 that it had signed a “cooperation agreement” (whatever that is) with the Port of Lake Charles, La.

According to the PCA, the agreement was signed during a recent visit by PCA CEO Jorge Quijano to the Lake Charles area, and will promote “key business strategies and [identify]ways to improve efficiency.” He predicted the agreement will result in “cooperation in marketing activities, information exchange, market research, [and]training and technology, among other initiatives.” He didn’t mention any commitment by anyone to actually do anything, and an agreement without commitment is no agreement at all, so the reason why the announcement was made at all remains unclear.

But why would the PCA send Mr. Quijano to Lake Charles in the first place, just one of hundreds of ports called by vessels that use the Canal? The release recounts meetings with potential LNG exporters in the area, but since there are no LNG-export facilities currently in operation, that’s a business some years away at best. Could it be mere coincidence that, on the same day as the release, a news item appeared about an arbitrator’s award of $233 million against the PCA in favor of its construction contractor because the canal administrators “unfairly” manipulated the contract to avoid the consequences of their negligence, a Fox News Latino report said. Anyone who cannot see a connection between this embarrassment and the PCA’s current promotional onslaught hasn’t studied modern political strategy.

Regardless of the motivation behind the trip and the release, whatever commitment the Port of Lake Charles may have made to Mr. Quijano were not followed by any of the LNG-related companies he gladhanded. One assumes that they, like other U.S. natural-gas producers, will be watching Panama Canal developments closely, but whether their interests will ever  result in contracts remains to be seen. 

Meanwhile, the PCA’s public relations department continues its push for the 2015 Bagdad Bob Award, an honor usually reserved for presidential press secretaries.

About the author

Capt. Max Hardberger

Max Hardberger is a maritime attorney, flight instructor, writer, and maritime repo man. He has been a correspondent for WorkBoat since 1995. His memoir, Seized: A Sea Captain’s Adventures Battling Scoundrels and Pirates While Recovering Stolen Ships in the World’s Most Troubled Waters, was published by Broadway Books in 2010. He’s appeared on FOX, The Learning Channel, National Public Radio and the BBC, and has been the subject of articles in Fairplay Magazine, the Los Angeles Times, Men’s Journal, Esquire (UK), and the London Sunday Guardian.

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