Fender Benders on Water? (See: Expanded Panama Canal)
It is a section of Panama’s newly expanded canal that has troubled veteran canal workers.To safely guide the new generation of massive ships through the two sets of locks, tugboat captains and ship pilots rely on an approach wall to properly align the vessels before escorting them into the first narrow chamber.
The wall is an antidote to the currents and winds that push and pull ships into awkward angles, making tugboats wrestle the elements before achieving the proper position.
Each entrance has this structure — except one. And it was at this opening on the afternoon of July 21 that the Chinese container ship Xin Fei Zhou struck a lock wall, tearing small holes in its hull — canal officials call it a dent — and forcing it out of service. The new canal was not even a month old.
Another container ship had experienced tense moments three weeks earlier as crew members responded to “countless” instructions from a canal employee who was attempting to guide it into the same set of locks.
Ultimately, that transit was successful. But the Xin Fei Zhou’s mishap was not the canal’s only setback. Other vessels have sheared or badly damaged up to 100 buffering fenders that are supposed to protect the lock walls and ship hulls should they come into contact, according to interviews with canal workers.
Several days before the expanded sea lane opened — nearly two years late and with more than $3.4 billion in disputed costs — an examination by The New York Times raised questions about its viability, citing concerns over safety, design, changes in the world’s shipping patterns and demand.
Canal workers had expressed concern about whether the plastic fenders on the lock walls would be adequate and whether tugboat captains had received the proper training in how to guide the giant ships through the chambers — a procedure that differed from the one used in the original canal.
So they’re having problems with unloaded container ships. I wouldn’t want to be the first to take a fully loaded ship through.