Close call in Panama Canal locks raises safety concerns Ship’s crew

From Charlie Bartlett (The Loading Star) –

OOCL UtahSunday’s near miss with a Panama Canal lock gate suggests a tragic and costly accident is imminent, experts say.

Video material shows a forward-positioned “Alpha” tug nearly crushed between the Hong Kong-flagged container ship and the Agua Clara lock gate of the canal. There was no “Delta” tug aft to stop the ship.

Representatives of the Union of Captains and Deck Officers of the Panama Canal said The loading star how a lack of procedures and under-resources at the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) meant that pilots – who were paid per ship – were in charge.

“They (pilots) want to get it done quickly because the more jobs they get, the more money they make. The error cannot be attributed to the ship.

“(The pilot) was told the (tail) tractor was from another job… but he chose not to wait. There are no procedures and no rules, so (the pilot) can do whatever he wants.

“This is the next call we have had so far in a series of incidents over the past two years. In one, a tug was run aground… another was set on the rocks and left for three months for repairs.”

They claimed pilots often attempted to negotiate the channel at speeds above what is safe for tugboat crews. In the case of the Alpha tug on Sunday: “We can say that the crew was at risk due to the enclosed space and the size of the ship,” it said.

“If the ship hits the tugboat… it will sink. There are no ladders (the tugs themselves) are death traps… but if you fall in there you will be washed away.”

Watch: How the expanded Panama Canal works

If it had collided with the canal’s lock gate, it could have shut down the waterway for months, resulting in a supply chain disruption on the order of magnitude of Always given Suez incident in March 2021. In the Panama Canal, the lock gates are “…not like the ones we had on the old locks. These move on rails, and if a gate comes off that rail because a 100,000 ton ship is hitting it at 2.5 knots, it will get stuck. And we don’t have the equipment to pick up that gate right now.

“Actually, we don’t know how they could fix this problem. So it would be a major disruption to global supply chains.”

Alongside a speed limit and a list of procedures for pilots who would specify tugs fore and aft, the union is pushing for better resource allocation and better equipped tugs as there are not enough crew to meet the canal’s needs. Crews are working more than 16 hours a day, seven days a week, with no mandatory rest periods, a source claimed.

“There’s no tug maintenance, there’s little staff… we’re not immune to fatigue.”

The incident with the OOCL Utah comes as the ACP is now Introduction of a new “disruption fee” of up to $250,000 in the event of a serious incident.

The ACP has so far declined to respond to requests for comment.

The loading star is recognized at the highest levels of logistics and supply chain management as one of the finest sources of influential analysis and commentary.

Related Articles

Back to top button