Tug and salvage experts say cost cutting means it’s just a matter of time before another Suez-style shut down.
Two experts on tugs and towage say that cost-cutting and contract squeezing mean that another incident like the grounding of the ULCS the Ever Given, that shut down the Suez Canal for six days, is an accident waiting to happen.
Jacques Kerkhof and Ivan De La Guardia told The Maritime Post that contract squeezing has pushed staffing to unsafe and unsustainable levels, and that unless critical safety concerns are addressed, it’s only a matter of time before another major waterway suffers disruption.
‘A global race to the bottom has been ongoing in the industry, and in 2021 it is continuing with highly profitable corporations exerting downward pressure on pricing for critical tug and towage contracts in every corner of the globe…
‘We have been clear that the industry must stop cutting back on maintenance, equipment, fleet renewal and training,’ they say.
‘It is time to return to safe crewing levels and proper periods of rest and safe levels of work.
‘We urge leaders of the shipping, logistics and freighting industries to recognise the unsustainability of the current trajectory.
‘Hazardous working conditions are a disaster waiting to happen.’
A study commissioned by the International Transport Workers Federation interviewed 55 Panama Canal tugboat captains and and nearly one in three said they had worked up to 20 hours in a single shift. Six reported falling asleep at work.
Tug captains said their workload has doubled since the elimination of the motorised “mules” that moved ships in the old locks and the opening of the new locks in 2019.
Jacques Kerkhof is the chair of the European Transport Workers’ Federation Tug & Towage Committee.