Enhanced Safety – 5 Tugs for Navigation through Panama Locks

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Can Five Tug Boats Ensure Safe Navigation through Expanded Panama Canal?

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Captain Miguel Rodriguez, chairman of the board of inspectors at the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) reported to have said that depending on the size, weight and manoeuvrability of the ships transiting the canal the authorities may use up to five tugboats to ensure safe navigation of the vessels, once inaugurated on June 26.

The scenario involving five tugboats would position one boat in front of the vessel, two boats behind it (including the extra one) and in the same manner as done today in the existing locks – two on the sides assisting.

While the canal’s existing locks use locomotives to help position the vessel in the chamber, the new locks will use one tugboat in front of the vessel and one or two behind it to assist the vessel during the lockage.

“However the procedures we have prepared to take vessels through the new locks are not written in stone,” he added.  “If we need to change them, we’ll change them.”

The new steps may be intended to remove any fears arising out of the criticism over its safety procedures from an independent study commissioned by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF), although the ACP since dismissed the claims as lacking “scientific accuracy and credibility”.

Rodriguez further disputed inferences that the locks’ dimensions are too small for safe operation, stating that 1,500 ft is adequate to accommodate a vessel with the maximum allowed dimensions and its accompanying tugboats.

If the two sets of gates in front of and behind the ship are closed, the space in between them is 1,400 ft long, he said, but the locks will operate with one gate at the back open, leaving 1,500 ft of open space.

According to Rodriguez, the biggest ships allowed to transit the new locks will be 1,200 ft long, allowing 150 ft of open space behind and in front of the vessel, for each 95 ft-long tugboat.

Regarding the ITF-commissioned study’s appraisal that there were no refuge areas for tugboats inside the lock, he said: “I can tell you that our system is the same type of system that everybody else has meeting the industry standard.”

Rodriguez also disagreed that the bollard pull of the tugboats would be insufficient, noting: “Our tugboats are 82 tonnes of bollard pull and we’re requiring ships to have chocks and bitts with at least 90 tonnes of safe working load in order to qualify for the new locks.”

In addition in preparation for the inauguration of the expanded canal, the ACP has chartered a Neopanamax dry bulk vessel, which is scheduled to arrive at the canal the week of June 7.

“The vessel, which is 43 m in beam 255 m in length, will be utilised to train pilots, tugboat masters, line handlers and locks personnel on-site, while performing several lockages per day, up and down the Atlantic-facing locks,” Rodriguez said.

This will further prepare the canal for the “reliable, safe transit of vessels and canal workers”, he hopes.

However, this does mean that the inauguration will not be the first transit through the expanded waterway.

Source: Container Management

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