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Panama Canal rejects and ITF independent study on safety of new locks

Panama Canal rejects and ITF independent study on safety of new locks
The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) has rejected a study by the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) that questions the safety of the new locks on the expanded canal.

ACP said it, “considers inadmissible an alleged study presented Wednesday, April 27, by a Brazilian company Foundation Men of the Sea and the ITF with the support of ITF Panamanian unions members that irresponsibly puts into question the safety of transit through the new locks.”

The ITF commissioned the study, which was carried out by Brazil’s Fundação Homem de Mar (FHM), in response to safety concerns risen by its Panamanian member unions. 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, the ITF said in its press release.  

The ITF said that the “concerns raised by the unions centred on the Panama Canal Administration’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 and concluded that the safety of manoeuvrability is compromised due to several factors”.

These include that - 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’s conclusions were released at a press conference in Panama City.

The ITF, like its Panamanian member unions, has previously offered to work with the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) to ensure that the safety concerns of those who will work on the new infrastructure are addressed, and is making the study available to the ACP, it said in the statement. 

“The study was based on the ACP's original plan to use one forward tug and one aft tug. We understand that compensatory alternatives are being examined, which we welcome,” said ITF general secretary Steve Cotton.

“We share our affiliated unions’ concerns and we can assure that The ITF and its canal affiliates want the new canal to be safe and to work. The Panama Canal is crucial for the international maritime industry. We offer our full support to make this important maritime route safe for all those who transit it or work on it, and for a positive engagement between unions and the ACP,” said the ITF.  

The ACP retorted that, “the study is not based on mathematical models, or physical navigation tests as those usually are doing in preparation for operations in the extended channel; therefore, lack scientific rigor and credibility,” said Captain Peter Pusztai, Panama Canal pilots training co-ordinator. He added that the authors of this study "have not sailed the Panama Canal, and are not suitable for it."  

The Panama Canal in recent years has invested more than $3m in updating its simulation centre with rigorous mathematical models and $8m in a centre of physical simulation ships to scale, which is an exact replica of the navigation channels, including Gaillard Cut.

“The Panama Canal administration makes clear that it has not provided data to the Brazilian company to make a report of this type. In addition, the Panama Canal makes all his studies in the simulation centre which is the most advanced in the region, based on rigorous mathematical models and updated, with physical simulations scale ships and real transits in the actual locks,” the ACP said.

“During the presentation of the report of the ITF, representatives of the Foundation Men of the Sea showed an animation of a lockage with only two tugboats, which is an incorrect premise, because in the expanded Canal will be used up to four tugboats for transit.”