January 23rd 2019

Another man has died while working in the NEOPANAMAX locks, where tug captains have been protesting long hours and cuts in crewing levels.

Adams Caballero was killed on Jan. 15 in a line-handling accident, according to officials of MM&P’s Panama affiliate, Unión de Capitanes y Oficiales de Cubierta (UCOC).

Another man died in the NEOPANAMAX locks in November 2017. A third suffered serious injuries in a line-handling accident in April of last year.

“The Panama Canal Authority continues to prioritize profits over safety,” says Captain Ivan De La Guardia, a UCOC official.

In the new locks, tugboats must accompany vessels during the entire transit and maneuvers can take up to 10 hours.

The International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) commissioned a study last year of fatigue among Panama Canal tugboat captains.

The report was authored by Barry Strauch, who has investigated accidents for the National Transportation Safety Board for 30 years, and Isabel Gonzalez, an expert on occupational medicine.

For the study, they interviewed 55 captains, a third of the total working on the canal.

Nearly one in three captains interviewed said they had worked up to 20 hours in a single shift, and six of them reported falling asleep at work.

The tug captains say their workload has doubled since the elimination of the motorized “mules” that moved ships in the old locks and the opening, two years ago, of the new locks.

For this reason, it had been standard practice for the Canal Authority to supply an extra captain and a third deckhand aboard the tugs specifically during transits of the new locks.

But despite the death of a tugboat deckhand in November of the previous year, management eliminated the third deckhand position in April 2018.

The move was immediately followed by another accident in which a second deckhand was seriously injured.

In last week’s tragedy, Adams Caballero—a linehandler leader in the Cocoli Locks—died aboard the RIOJA KNUTSEN when a line snapped.

A spokesperson for the Panama Canal Authority said the most recent accident is under investigation.