The Miami Herald
January 2, 2000
No glitches as ships sail through Panama Canal

 Associated Press

 PANAMA -- Ships crossed the isthmus of Panama without problems Saturday,
 the nation's first full day as sole administrator of the canal. Popular concern about
 the canal's security remained, however.

 The transfer of the waterway and surrounding property from the United States to
 Panamanian hands was finalized at noon Friday, ending 85 years of American
 control. Panamanians celebrated what they described as the start of full

 There were no reports of problems stemming from the Y2K computer glitch. Canal
 authorities had stressed that operations would go smoothly since the technology
 used to run the canal is largely the same as it was when the waterway opened in

 Authorities had closely watched electricity and water generators for any trouble.

 ``Everything has come out well. . . . All is normal without any problems,'' a Canal
 Authority spokeswoman said.

 Thirteen ships traversed the 50-mile-long canal in the first hours of the new year,
 the department of maritime traffic control reported.

 A refrigerated cargo ship, the Balboa Reefer, was the first to cross the canal in
 2000, passing the Miraflores locks on the Pacific side at 3:06 a.m. A Greek ship,
 Chios Beauty, entered the Atlantic side locks at Gatun at 3:48 a.m.

 The greatest popular concern about the canal is whether Panama is ready to
 defend it against a potential attack.

 The nation's army was dissolved after the 1989 U.S. invasion to unseat military
 strongman Manuel Noriega. Since then, the country has relied on a national
 police force, currently 18,000 strong.

 A poll of 1,200 Panamanians by the newspaper La Prensa showed that 70
 percent believe Panama is not capable of defending the strategic waterway. More
 than 72 percent said Panama needs the United States to protect the canal, and
 68 percent opposed the withdrawal of U.S. troops.

 The poll, published Thursday, was taken Dec. 10-12 and had a margin of error of 3
 percentage points.

 Authorities have insisted that Panama is ready to defend the canal without the
 U.S. military, which had maintained a presence in the country since 1903, when
 the United States was instrumental in obtaining the country's independence from