The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) dismisses recent claims by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) over alleged privatization and safety in the Expanded Panama Canal.
The Panama Canal would like to clarify that it is not privatizing any of its services. When the ACP assumed the administration of the waterway in December 1999, the tugboat fleet consisted of 20 vessels. The fleet increased over the next three years to 24, which was the number maintained until the Expansion was approved in 2006. Starting in 2007 the fleet gradually was increased to a total of 46 in 2014 in preparation for the Expanded Canal. That is a 230% increase in tugs compared to what we had in 2000, and a 192% increase of tugs when compared to 2006. Not only did the tugboat fleet increase substantially in numbers, but it also increased the horse power and bollard pull of these vessels to fit the anticipated requirements of the envisioned operation of the larger new locks and deeper and wider channels.
Through the years, the ACP has retained the services of commercial tugs in order to supplement the demand during peak hours of the day with high demand due to heavy traffic. This practice is not new, and has been in use for the last four decades. They are used to assist in the ocean entrances on either side of the Canal and do not lock with the transiting vessels.
All personnel manning these contract tugs are properly licensed by the Panama Maritime Authority (AMP) to assist vessels. All tugs have been inspected and determined to be in compliance with all Panama Canal requirements. These tugs perform the same type of maneuvers when they assist vessels in the docking process at commercial port terminals on both entrances of the Canal.
The allegation that the Panama Canal is attempting to eliminate the unions is without merit and contradicts recent efforts made by the Administration to successfully negotiate bargaining unit agreements with four unions thus impacting 97.5% of the ACP workforce, including the contract with the union that represents the tugboat masters and officers of the Panama Canal.
Regarding the ITF commissioned maneuverability study, our safety record and the more than 300 Neopanamax ships that have transited since the Inauguration is proof that the Panama Canal studies were performed by employing all the proper data obtained during the design and construction phases of the Locks and channels, and that the simulations reflect the expected vessels real-life performance. The Panama Canal was not consulted by the ITF when commissioning their study and thus factored in erroneous precepts regarding Neopanamax transit operations and assigned resources.
The Panama Canal ensures its valued customers that it has all the required resources to provide an expeditious transit to all vessels.