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Study raises safety concerns over Panama Canal's new locks

A SIMULATOR study has found that the new Panama Canal locks are too small for safe operation and leave little room for error. 

The study also highlighted that there were no refuge areas for tugs within the locks in case of a loss of control. 

The findings were released just two months ahead of the planned opening of the expanded major transit way for merchant ships. As a result, the International Transport Workers Federation has demanded the shipping industry conduct a risk analysis on the manoeuvrability of vessels transiting the locks, Lloyd's Loading List reported.

The move comes after an independent study into the Panama Canal expansion, commissioned by the ITF, raised concerns about the safety of the new locks.

"In terms of manoeuvrability in the locks, the control of the vessel was compromised under the average environmental conditions present," the ITF said. "The main reasons were the low power of the tugboats and the required bollard pull."

The mathematical model was based on the original plan by the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) to use one forwards tug and one aft tug, manoeuvring a neopanamax vessel.

"We face a situation where those working on the canal, and those passing through it, are potentially at risk," said ITF general secretary Steve Cotton. "That will have to change."

The concerns raised by the ITF centred on the Panama Canal Authority's refusal to discuss training, technical and construction issues that had led to delays in the operation of the new locks, Mr Cotton added.
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