Panama Canal spat continues

The Panama Canal Authority has disputed widespread reports that three ships have run into difficulties while transiting the expanded waterway within the first month of opening.

The authority acknowledged that the China Cosco Shipping 8,500 teu containership Fei Zhou Xin Min did make contact with one of the walls (pictured) at the Agua Clara Locks last week. However, it disputed claims widely reported that two other ships – the boxship that made the first official transit and the first LPG carrier to go through the wider waterway – also made contact with the walls. A spokesperson described the two other incidents as “inaccurate news reports”.

The authority has come in for repeated flak with multiple sources suggesting it has failed to properly train masters and pilots about the expanded canal, while the size of the locks has been deemed too small by many for the larger so called neopanamaxes now transiting the canal. A study carried out for the International Transport Workers Federation (ITF) this April had lambasted the canal authority for many of these issues. The authority immediately dismissed the report.

Local tugboat workers told Splash earlier today that training for crews and pilots transiting the canal had almost vanished and had been inadequate. Moreover, the decision to bring in third party tugboats to help with the increased traffic was not helping safety, union officials claimed.

Steve Cotton, general secretary of the ITF, got stuck into the debate today, telling Splash: “The manoeuvrability study in the new Panama Canal locks highlighted a number of avoidable risks in the infrastructure that could have been – and should have been – avoided.”

Cotton added: “Those working on the Panama Canal are extremely professional – certainly the idea of bringing in third party tugboats would be no solution. Instead we believe the PCA must now commission adequate numbers of tugboats and establish a more coordinated operation procedure that takes into account the immediate emergency actions necessary to mitigate risks when an incident occurs or weather conditions suddenly change.”

Earlier this week Panama Canal Administrator Jorge Quijano had claimed the Fei Zhou Xin Min incident was down to bad weather and the ship failing to get lined up in position correctly. The spat between canal workers and authorities continues.


Sam Chambers

Starting out with the Informa Group in 2000 in Hong Kong, Sam Chambers became editor of Maritime Asia magazine as well as East Asia Editor for the world’s oldest newspaper, Lloyd’s List. In 2005 he pursued a freelance career and wrote for a variety of titles including taking on the role of Asia Editor at Seatrade magazine and China correspondent for Supply Chain Asia. His work has also appeared in The Economist, The New York Times, The Sunday Times and The International Herald Tribune.
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