Panama Canal Responds: Tugboat Captains Broke the Law

expanded Panama Canal 3000
The MSC Caterina becomes the 3,000th vessel to transit through the Expanded Panama Canal, March 2, 2018. Photo: Panama Canal Authority

Editor’s Note: Below is the full statement provided by a representative of the Panama Canal in response to gCaptain’s story Panama Canal Tugboat Captains Face Disciplinary Action After Raising Safety Concerns in New Neopanamax LocksYou can read gCaptain’s full coverage of the dispute here.

Statement from a Representative of the Panama Canal: On April 12, a brief and isolated service interruption occurred at the Panama Canal’s Neopanamax locks when several tugboat captains refused to comply with mandatory procedures, compromising the Canal’s performance and causing economic loss. The Panama Canal normalized transits through its Neopanamax locks the next day. Operations on the Canal’s Panamax locks were never affected.

The Panama Canal is constitutionally mandated to ensure the waterway’s uninterrupted operation and therefore took steps to determine the necessary measures to discipline those responsible, as is required by Panama Canal regulations. To be clear, the responsible parties are not being investigated for “raising safety and security concerns,” but for disrupting vessel operations, which violated the law. Attempts to gain advantage in a labor dispute by conflating an unfortunate and unrelated accident from last year with this particular work stoppage is not only inaccurate and misleading, it’s irresponsible and disrespectful to those who were affected.

To also clarify, this wasn’t a reduction, rather a normalization of the operation. The Maritime Safety Certificate, issued by the Panama Canal and the Panamanian Maritime Authority, clearly establishes the required amount of seamen on a tug is two sailors (in addition to the Captain and Auxiliary Engineer, which the Canal employs as well). Each tugboat has a copy of this maritime certificate. The third mariner had been added during the initial stages of operation of the new locks to assure the function of the winches. Now, after more than 3,000 transits in the new locks, we assured the security of these equipment, so the decision was made to return to the normal crew of two mariners. This had been the plan all along.

As it always has, the Panama Canal will continue to invest in the resources and equipment needed to meet operational demands in a safe and efficient manner. This has included, but is not limited to, investing millions of dollars in state-of-the-art training facilities and education programs that provide pilots and tugboat masters with both simulated and extensive hands-on experience. Also, it should be noted that this normalization does not mean a dismissal of any kind – the sailors who fulfilled this function are simply being assigned to other tasks where they are needed to continue providing the same safe and efficient operations expected of the Canal. Should personnel take issue with this policy, the Canal encourages them to do so in a constructive manner through the properly established channels that have always been available to them.

The Panama Canal has a safe operation and the tugboat crewing complies with current the Marine Safety Inspection Certificate. -STATEMENT END

You can read gCaptain’s full coverage of the dispute here.