Study considers Panama Canal tug safety

Tug operations were put under scrutiny by an article published in the Maritime Journal and written by Peter Barker. For many months the tug boats captains have complained about the working conditions and other problems related to the safety of the vessels crossing the Panama Canal.

An A-list team of international experts led by The Maritime Group International (TMG) has delivered a review of tug operations in the newly expanded Panama Canal.

The canal’s capacity has been doubled with the expansion including two new sets of locks on the Atlantic and Pacific sides. The work had a price tag of $5.25bn and allowed larger ships to use the canal but the project has been dogged with reported problems, some associated with the towage elements, the tug fleet was significantly expanded as part of the expansion plan.

Tug boats safety scrutinized by TMG.

Tug boats safety scrutinized by TMG.

Debate surrounding the subject including from pilots, tug crews, ship owners and of course the Panama Canal Authority itself was varied and sometimes contradictory and it is hoped this study will provide a clearer understanding of certain aspects of the canal’s operation.

TMG is an international consortium of maritime service companies, consultancies and marine management companies headquartered in Seattle with regional offices in London, Honolulu and Singapore. As such it can call on a formidable array of maritime professionals from across the industry from master mariners to ship brokers, economists and specialist surveyors.

TMG was instructed by the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) to conduct a pivotal assessment of the tugboat operations in the new third set of locks along with other operational observations, the brief including a focus on Health, Safety, Environmental and Quality (HSEQ) procedures.

The ACP increased the number of tug boats.

The ACP increased the number of tug boats.

The team of experts included: managing director captain Malcolm W Parrott; captain Orlando Allard, ex-chief pilot of the Panama Canal and captain John R Freestone, ex-chief pilot of the Port of London Authority. They were led professionally by John P Crummie ex-managing director DFDS Seaways assisted by Kevin W Hawes TMG’s business development director. Captain John M Cox, USA president of TMG, an ex-Panama Canal pilot also contributed his expertise.

The team spent time in Panama transiting the canal including the old locks aboard transiting vessels and ACP tugs and interviewing and meeting stakeholders. Time was also spent at ACP’s training facilities at its new ship handling lake and similar training facilities at SIDMAR. Operational data from other ports handling neo-Panamax vessels in UK and Europe was gathered for benchmarking purposes.

TMG state that ACP has accepted its findings and are now considering modifications to its procedures and optimization of schedules, captain Parrott stating: ‘Our findings will contribute to a quicker, more efficient and safer operation on the canal for the benefits of ACP’s shipping company, military and leisure customers as well as their employees and suppliers.’

Panama Canal administrator, Jorge L Quijano said: ‘TMG’s high standards and aspiration for excellence match our own.

‘This study will play a major role as we continue to expand capacity in a sustainable and safe way, whilst also helping to drive international trade and prosperity.’

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