Thursday, December 6, 2018

New Report Has Concerns Over Passage of Container Ships and Tankers Due to Tug Captains Fatigue

Panama Canal Safety Culture Increases the Risk of Accidents Says Union
Shipping News Feature
PANAMA – The last time we reported that the International Transport Workers' Federation (ITF) was not satisfied with safety regulations regarding the tugs required to assist the container ships and tankers through the passage the claims were immediately repudiated by the Panama Canal Authority (PCA). Now comes a report from the union organisation which takes the PCA to task with tiredness, rather than the protocols in place for the physical transfer of vessels as was the case previously.

The report, commissioned by the ITF and affiliate Union de Capitanes y Oficiales de Cubierta (UCOC), was prepared by Dr Barry Strauch PHD, an accident investigator with the US National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) for over 3 decades, and Dr Isabel Gonzales MD, former Director of the Panama National Program on Occupational Health and President of the Panama Association of Specialists on Occupational Medicine. Between them they have almost 70 years of experience in their fields and, as such, are also respected authors.

The report, ‘Fatigue Among Panama Canal Tugboat Captains’ is the latest salvo fired in a battle between the unions and the PCA over minimum safe manning, access to training and equipment, and hazardous working conditions on tugboats in the new Neopanamax locks, and was commissioned after the ITF claim the PCA rejected numerous attempts to discuss health and safety operations. Stephen Cotton, ITF general secretary said:

“This independent study confirms what the UCOC, and the ITF, have consistently said to the Panama Canal Authority: that the significant reduction in manning, compounded by the excessive overtime being required of tugboat captains, are jeopardising the safety of workers, including Panamanian citizens, and risk exposing them to a potential environmental disaster.

“Tugboats play a key role in the transit of large vessels with hazardous cargo through the narrow and complex waterways of the Panama Canal, and the potential for a catastrophic incident mounts with the increase in a tugboat captain’s fatigue.

“Fatigue, anxiety and health-associated risks are exposing the tugboat captains to unnecessary hazards, while also endangering other seafarers transiting the canal. There is also increased risk to vessels passing through the locks and the canal’s own facilities. This situation needs the full attention of the shipping community, before disaster strikes.”

Dave Heindel, ITF seafarers section chair commented that the PCA could not continue to ignore these serious health and safety risks, stating that by refusing to discuss the matter and continuing to refute the allegations any casualties or loss of life from a disaster in the locks will be on the conscience of the Authority. ITF inland navigation chair Yuri Sukhorukov called on the PCA to open dialogue to resolve the issues, saying:

“Once again, we invite the PCA to sit down with the ITF and UCOC to agree a path forward to improve the safety of transit operations and working conditions of tugboat captains. As the report found, PCA’s failure to address previous fatigue-related incidents, like the tugboat collision in 2017, its lack of cooperation with international authorities investigating the incident, and its lack of adherence to agreements governing hours of work and oversight of tugboat captains’ health, manifest a safety culture that increases rather than reduces the risk of accidents.”

Whilst the link above leads to the report in full a summary can be read here in English or in Spanish.