The Panama Canal Dismisses ITF Claims

By The Maritime Executive 04-28-2016 07:24:40

The Panama Canal has dismisses claims by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) that questions industry standards and the operation of the Expanded Panama Canal’s new locks.

“ITF’s claims in a recently released document are not based on mathematical models and do not include data from physical navigation tests as that been done in preparation for operations in the Expanded Canal,” said the Panama Canal in a statement. “It therefore lacks scientific accuracy and credibility. In addition, the authors have not transited through the Panama Canal and are not trained to do so.”

ITF Members Concerned

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

Using a neo-Panamax model vessel and two tugboats, the study authors 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.

10 Years of Preparation

The Panama Canal spent nearly 10 years to methodically and professionally evaluate and analyze the design of the Expanded Panama Canal’s locks. This process included conducting internal and external studies to determine how the new locks should operate. After this in-depth process, the Panama Canal made the informed decision to embrace the industry standard of using up to four tugs to navigate ships. Outside industry experts concluded that the ACP’s decision was correct.

“We commend all who have been involved in this project over the past 10 years,” said Captain Peter Pusztai, Panama Canal Pilot Training Coordinator. “The ITF’s claims are unproven and contain many errors. Despite their false claims, we look forward to transforming the maritime industry through the opening of the Expanded Panama Canal.”

The Panama Canal reiterated that it is proud of its investment in and preparation for the opening of the Expanded Canal on June 26 and its painstaking attention to detail to ensure the safe, reliable and efficient transits. In 2015 alone, the Panama Canal invested more than $3 million to upgrade its Center for Simulation, Research and Maritime Development (SIDMAR) with additional rigorous mathematical models to further train pilots and tugboat captains to operate within the expanded locks.

Additionally, the Panama Canal has invested more than $8 million in the Scale Model Maneuvering Training Facility, which complements simulation training received at SIDMAR and is devoted to ship handling and hands-on training to scale. This innovative 35.3-acre training facility features docking bays, replicas of the new and existing locks, gates, and chambers, all at a 1:25 scale to provide pilots and tugboat captains with the in-depth, hands-on-training needed to safely and efficiently transit Neopanamax vessels through the Expanded Panama Canal. 

The study is available here.