ITF Takes Up Panama Canal Tug Concerns

Panama Canal mule

Published Sep 17, 2015 9:22 AM by The Maritime Executive

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) has commissioned a study into the maneuvering feasibility of the new Panama Canal locks after questions asked by Panama’s tugboat masters have gone unanswered.

In a deal signed in Limassol, Cyprus, on Friday the Federation is to employ the Brazil-based Fundação Homem de Mar (FHM) to construct a mathematical model to analyze the maneuverability considerations for the safe transit of the locks.

The new locks will necessitate changes to canal operations as tugs will be used to maneuver ships in and out of the locks, rather than electric locomotives (mules). The new locks would have required 12 to 16 mules to position post-Panamax vessels. Instead, tugboats that already service canal traffic will align ships in the chambers, one at the bow, one at the stern.

Ivan de la Guardia, general secretary of Panama’s Tugboats Masters and Mates Union, said: “We have, for several months, asked to have a proper engagement to draft a new set of procedures for the new locks. This has constantly being denied by the canal administrator.  Even members of parliament have pointed out that the tugboat fleet has serious deficiencies that have to be addressed.”

Luis Yau, general secretary of the Engineers’ Union added: “Even if the locks were ready today, one year after the original scheduled delivery, we would not be ready to operate safely and efficiently. We want the Panama Canal Authority to understand that our lives are at stake if we lack the proper operational procedures”

Severino Almeida, a council member of the FHM foundation explains: “We have developed a series of services in our simulation center. We are capable of making mathematical models of all kind of vessels, terminals and navigational channels in order to simulate the maneuverability and the feasibility of all maritime operations. We have decided to offer our solidarity and expertise to support our Panamanian colleagues and the ITF. The Panama Canal has a special meaning for all of us as seafarers, and we are eager to support a better understanding of the operation of the new locks.”

ITF president Paddy Crumlin, who was present in Limassol to sign the commission, stated: “The ITF is committed to using all means, including the most advanced mathematical models in order to ensure that operations are safe for the tugboat crews and for all canal users. Any inadequate operation could have a serious impact on the international maritime trade and also on the seafarers we represent.

“We want to support the Panamanian authorities and the international maritime community to make the new locks a success, both in terms of safety for seafarers and Panama Canal workers, but also in terms of profitability for the Panamanian government, which has made an incredible investment.”