Panama Canal Dismisses ITF Safety Study on New Locks

  • Business & Finance

The Panama Canal Authority considers inadmissible the safety study presented on Wednesday, April 27 in Panama City, by the Brazilian company Fundação Homem de Mar (FHM) and the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), which puts into question the safety of transit through the new locks.

FHM was tasked with preparing a mathematical model, using a Manoeuvring Simulator Class A, to recreate the new locks, a neo-Panamax vessel and the tugboats that would assist its manoeuvres, as explained by the ITF who commissioned the study.

The ITF said that the concerns raised by the unions centred on the ACP’s refusal to engage in dialogue on matters such as training, as well as the technical and construction issues that have led to delays in the operation of the new infrastructure.

As disclosed, the study shows that using a neo-Panamax model vessel and two tugboats, compromises the safety of manoeuvrability due to several factors:

  • The locks’ dimensions are too small for safe operation (with both gates closed);
  • There are no refuge areas for the tugboats inside the locks, leaving no room for failure (human error, miscommunication, broken lines or engine failure);
  • The bollard pull is insufficient;
  • In terms of manoeuvrability in the locks, the control of the vessel was compromised under the average environmental conditions present in that geographic area (data provided by the contracting party). The main reasons were the low power of the tugboats and the required bollard pull. With milder conditions the exercise was concluded safely.
  • The study recommends that a complete risk analysis and special training should be carried out to avoid any accidents that may result in loss of life or pollution.

A video of a simulated transit can be seen below:

“I wish I could report that the study gave the new locks the all clear. Sadly, I can’t. Instead we face a situation where those working on the canal, and those passing through it, are potentially at risk. That will have to change,” ITF general secretary Steve Cotton said.

As explained, the study was based on the PCA’s original plan to use one forward tug and one aft tug.

“We understand that compensatory alternatives are being examined, which we welcome.”

He added that the issues identified in this study were not a surprise to workers on the canal, but that unfortunately their expertise and experience have up to now been snubbed.

“We believe that this is an issue where there is common ground with shipowners, insurers and others in the maritime industry, so we will seek to engage them in the discussions and strategies for improvement in this crucial area and may also consider updating the simulation to cover new manoeuvring alternatives in co-operation with the PCA, as well as other shipping industry representatives,” he concluded.

On the other hand, Captain Peter Pusztai, supervisor of the training unit of Marine Simulation at the canal, said the study was not based on mathematical models, or physical navigation tests putting to question its scientific accuracy and credibility.

He added that the authors of this study “have not sailed the Panama Canal, nor are they suitable for it.”

ACP added that it conducts all its studies in the simulation center which is the most advanced in the region, based on rigorous mathematical models, updated with physical simulations scale ships and real transits in the actual locks.

“During the presentation of the report of the ITF, representatives of the FHM showed an animation of a lock with only two tugboats, which is an incorrect premise, because in the expanded canal up to four tugboats will be used for transit,” ACP pointed out.

“The ACP reiterates that it is prepared to face the challenge posed by the opening of the new locks, with the same efficiency and safety of the current ones, which make this route one of the safest in the world,” the authority stressed.

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