Health and safety

Union joins call for Panama Canal safety talks

13 February 2020

Nautilus has written to the Panama Canal Authority (ACP) urging that it sits down with tug masters to address long-standing concerns over unsafe working hours and conditions.

The joint letter, also signed by the International Transport Worker's Federation (ITF) and the International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots, follows protests over serious safety concerns over fatigue, raised since the launch of the expanded Panama Canal in April 2019.

Nautilus Federation affiliate Unión de Capitanes y Oficiales de Cubierta (UCOC) has said it believes its members are being targeted by ACP officials for speaking up. In June 2019, 13 Union activists were suspended or facing suspension and dismissal from duty without pay for taking part in the protests.

The letter voices support for the UCOC and its efforts to protect tugboat crews and to ensure the safe transit of vessels through the expanded canal, which has seen a spate of casualties at the new locks, including the death of one tugboat rating from head injuries during line handling procedures.

'It is clear even to the most casual of observers that the process of guiding vessels through the expanded canal is more labour intensive and potentially dangerous than the process employed in the old canal,' the letter says.
It calls for the ACP and UCOC to discuss:

  • The establishment of written hours of service rules that govern tug captain scheduling and an upper limit to the number of continuous hours that tug captains can work. These hours should be in line with the internationally accepted STCW and SOLAS hours of rest/work enacted by the International Maritime Organization (IMO) to facilitate good health and safety.
  • Due process for the tug captains who have been disciplined for expressing their concerns about vessel and crew safety.