Since the opening of the Central American waterway’s expanded third lane, roughly 2 percent of vessel transits have resulted in incidents that damaged the ship or the canal locks themselves, according to a recent report from the Associated Press.
Source: Matt Ragen / Shutterstock
Since the opening of the Panama Canal’s expanded third lane, roughly 2 percent of vessel transits have resulted in incidents that damaged the ship or the canal locks themselves, according to a recent report from the Associated Press.
More than seven months since the opening of the expanded Panama Canal, the important Central American waterway is still suffering from growing pains, according to a recent report from the Associated Press.
The expansion, which began in 2007 and was originally scheduled for completion in late 2014, allows the canal to accommodate post-Panamax containerships with up to 13,000-TEUs of capacity, nearly three times the previous 5,000-TEU limit. Construction was initially expected to cost $5.3 billion, but reports suggest the actual budget for the project far exceeded that figure.
Despite the meticulous planning that went into the expansion, the narrow width of the canal is still posing a serious problem for ships and the tugs that guide them through the expanded third lane, according to the Associated Press report.
“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,” the report said.
AP reporters traveled on a recent voyage by a tugboat guiding the containership Ever Living through the canal’s Cocoli locks on the Pacific side of the waterway and found “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,” it 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 and 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 366m long and 49m wide, leaving a distance of just 6m across the width of the canal and 61m 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 Fundação 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.”
Shortly after the report was published, a China Shipping (now part of China COSCO Shipping) containership scraped its side against the wall of one of the new locks while transiting the third lane, leaving a gash in the vessel’s exterior and causing damage to its hull.
Since the expansion’s opening in late June 2016, roughly 2 percent of vessel transits (15 of a total 700) have resulted in incidents that damaged the ship or the canal locks themselves, according to data from the Panama Canal Authority (ACP).
But ACP Deputy Administrator Manuel Benitez told the Associated Press the reported incidents “have not been of a magnitude that could affect the operation of the locks.”
“The ships have not run aground; they continue their routes,” he said, adding that it has been “pretty positive the way our people have been able to navigate that [learning] curve.”
The ACP declined to comment on the cost of repairing the new bumpers or whether the schedule for such repairs has been moved up as a result of the higher-than-expected incident rate.