Thursday 24th Sep 2020 - Logistics & Supply Chain

Union questions safety of new Panama locks

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) has commissioned a study in response to safety concerns raised by unions about the safety of the newly built Panama Canal locks.

According to the ITF, the concerns were prompted by the “Panama Canal Administration’s refusal to engage in dialogue on matters such as training, as well as technical and construction issues”.

The study found that the ‘safety of manoeuvrability’ is compromised because:

  • 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.

ITF general secretary Steve Cotton said: “We believe that this is an issue where there is common ground with ship-owners, 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.”

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