Insurance company Allianz has become the latest organisation to question whether the Panama Canal’s plan to replace “mules” with tugs is safe.
Andrew Kinsey, a senior marine risk consultant at Allianz, said in a report that just using tugs in the lock chamber means there is the potential for increased contact with the lock walls.
“It is believed that the use of tugs, rather than mules, provides sufficient control over ships in the lock chamber,” he continued, “but it is a situation that will be monitored closely.”
The International Transport Workers Federation have also expressed concerns over the increased use of tugs. On the other hand, the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) has assured the public that the process is safe.
The ACP’s estimates of how many tugs are needed has varied but the plan with five tugs is for one to work in front of the vessel, two behind it and two on the sides assisting.
At present, the only tugboats used are the two on the sides, as locomotives are used to position the vessel in the chamber.
However, Allianz did point out that the Panama Canal’s safety record is improving. While there were 97 safety incidents between 1996 and 2005, there were just 24 between 2006 and 2015. Most of these incidents involved collision with other vessels or with the harbour wall.
The report pointed out that the Panama Canal’s safety record has been consistently better than the Suez Canal’s. The Panama Canal has an approximate incident rate of around one in every 6,000 transits. For Suez, an incident occurs roughly once every 1,450 transits.