Seven months since the opening of the expanded Panama Canal, the narrow width of the canal continues to pose a serious problem for ships of up to 13,000 TEU, as well for the tugs that guide them through the expanded third lane. AP reporters traveled on a recent voyage by a tugboat guiding a container ship through the canal's Cocoli locks on the Pacific side of the waterway and reported: "With little margin for error, ships are still scraping the walls and prematurely wearing out defenses designed to protect both the vessels and the locks themselves. There are multiple places where the black rubber cushion defenses were visibly worn down, hanging into the water or missing entirely." "In one spot, a pile of dislodged bumpers sat on the side of the locks, apparently waiting to be hauled away,"the AP report added. London-based risk management consultancy PGI Intelligence in July 2016 published a report warning of "considerable safety concerns" with the canal expansion that could lead to accidents, delays for shippers, and higher claims for insurers. According to the report, at 427 meters long and 55 meters wide, the new locks are still too small for neo-Panamax ships. "The largest vessels can measure up to 366 meters long and 49 meters wide, leaving a distance of just six meters across the width of the canal and 61 meters length-wise, much of which will be taken up by tugboats on either end of the vessel to guide it through the lock," said PGI. A joint study by the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) and Brazil's Fundacao Homem de Mar (FHM) found that under windy conditions, the maneuverability of vessels would be compromised, making accidents likely due to the lock's narrow dimensions. Since the expansion's opening in late June 2016, two percent (15 of a total 700) of vessel transits have resulted in incidents that damaged the ship or the canal locks themselves, according to data from the Panama Canal Authority (ACP).
Source: American Shipper