Panama Canal said to be running at half capacity because of tug shortage

The Panama Canal is now functioning at just half capacity because there are too few tugs and trained tugboat crews to manoeuvre the larger vessels through the recently expanded canal, according to Don Marcus, president of the International Organisation of Masters, Mates & Pilots, talking to the American Journal of Transportation. “This is like building a massive office tower without enough elevators to get workers to their offices,” he said.

Instead of the anticipated 12 vessel transits per day, only a maximum of six are being completed, he said. The canal needs between 70 and 90 of new, more powerful tugboats, but only 33 of the 46 tugs owned by the Panama Canal Authority (PCA) are operational. Further, PCA tug boat captains have said that many of the canal tugs are not suitable for the larger containerships now using the canal. Captain Marcus said that eight tugs bought from China were poor performers, while at least 10 more were not operational.

In February IMN reported that many vessels were scraping the walls of the locks and wearing out the newly constructed walls and doors. Some Venezuelan tugs and crew have been brought in as a temporary measure, but the new employees do not go through the rigorous 2.5-year training and certification process that is required for captains employed by the PCA.