Panama Canal dismisses alleged privatisation of tug services

The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) has issued a statement dismissing the recent claims by the International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) over alleged privatisation and safety in the expanded Panama Canal.

“The Panama Canal would like to clarify that it is not privatising any of its services. When the ACP assumed the administration of the waterway in December 1999, the tugboat fleet was composed of 20 vessels. The fleet was 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 was gradually increased to a total of 46 in 2014 in preparation for the expanded Canal.

“That is 230% of what we had in 2000, or 192% of what we had in 2006. Not only did the tugboat fleet increased 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,” the ACP said.

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,” added the statement.

“All personnel manning these contract tugs are properly licenced 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 manoeuvres 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 manoeuvrability study, “our safety record and over 300 neopanamax ships that have transited since the inauguration are proof that the Panama Canal studies were performed 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 statement said.

“The Panama Canal ensures its valued customers that it has all the required resources to provide an expeditious transit to all vessels.”

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