Friday, April 29, 2016

Independent study of new Panama Cana locks raises concerns

An independent safety study into the Panama Canal expansion, which was commissioned by the ITF (International Transport Workers' Federation) and released Wednesday morning at a press conference in Panama City, has raised pressing concerns about the canal's new locks, scheduled to open June 26.

The ITF commissioned the study, which was carried out by Brazil's Fundação Homem de Mar (FHM), simulation specialists, in response to safety concerns raised by its Panamanian member unions. The concerns raised by the unions centered 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.

FHM was tasked with preparing a mathematical model, using a Maneuvering Simulator Class A, to recreate the new locks, a neo-Panamax vessel and the tugboats that would assist its maneuvers.

The study's simulation exercise, using a neo-Panamax model vessel and two tugboats, concluded that the safety of maneuverability is compromised 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 maneuverability 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.

Speaking from Panama City, ITF general secretary Steve Cotton said: "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."

"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."

The study can also be seen at

To view a video of a simulated transit created by FHM:

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