Panama Canal back to normal after tugboat captains suspension over weekend

Operations in the Panama Canal returned to normalcy April 14, following the suspension of a group of tugboat captains while they are being investigated for paralysing transits through the expanded locks on April 12.

On Saturday, nine Post-panamax vessels transited through the new locks. The original Canal locks, where the operation is carried out with locomotives, have been operating normally.

“The decision is based on the fact that these tugboat captains refused to fulfil their duty of assisting the transit of vessels through the [new] Post-panamax locks, which affected the regular operation and caused a negative economic impact on the country as it affected the confidence of our clients and the image of the Panama Canal,” the authority said in a statement.

It was the first time that tug captains had refused to obey Panama Canal Authority’s orders to operate the Post-panamax vessels within the new locks with two tug seamen on deck after the decision by the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) since April 12, to do away with a third seaman in the Alpha (lead) tugboat; a measure which had been introduced on a temporary basis when the third set of locks started operations, in June 26, 2016.

Because of a dispute with the captains of tugboats, operations continued on Friday with some pilots opting to take Post-panamax vessels through the waterway without the lead tug. Some tug captains refused to work without a third seaman on the tugboat, reported the Panama Canal Authority (ACP).

This process [to sanction the tug captains] will address the seriousness of the facts and will be fulfilled within the framework of the regulations of the Panama Canal. Due to the severity of what happened, the applicable sanctions may result in the dismissal of those responsible, the ACP said.

The five transits [in the new locks] that were scheduled for Thursday could not be completed because of the decision of the tug captains.

Panama’s Chamber of Commerce, Industries and Agriculture of Panama (CCIAP) rejected the actions taken by the tugboat captains saying that “the Panama Canal provides a fundamental service for world trade, and cannot afford any kind of paralysis.”

Posted 16 April 2018

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Michele Labrut

Americas Correspondent, Seatrade Maritime News

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