Just a little over a month after the Panama Canal expansion opened for business, there have already been reports of at least three accidents in the new locks. While these accidents have all been relatively minor (and the Panama Canal Authority has refuted the way the accidents have been reported), at least one Chinese container ship suffered a gash to its hull that forced it temporarily out of service.

Accidents in the Panama Canal are nothing new; and, in fact, some experts and media outlets predicted that there would be safety concerns with the expansion. We warned of potential safety concerns as well.

Historically, around one out of every 4,000 vessels to traverse the canal has been involved in an accident. Roughly 60 percent of these accidents have involved one of two primary causes: (i) collisions with other vessels, and (ii) contact with the walls of the canal. It is the latter that is currently proving to be an issue in the expanded locks, and this was one of the specific concerns identified prior to the expansion’s opening on June 26, 2016.

“Although the total number of maritime accidents in the Panama Canal has decreased significantly the potential risks are only set to increase with the creation of a new lane for larger ship transits . . . posing new challenges for the maritime community.”

Source: Panama Canal 100 Shipping Safety and Future Risks.

Statistics on Accidents in the Panama Canal

Here are some of the key statistics on vessel accidents in the Panama Canal:

  • Number of accidents over the past 20 years:
  • Number of accidents over the past 10 years:
  • Vessels most commonly involved in accidents: Bulk carriers, cargo ships and container ships account for over 75 percent of all accidents since 2002.
  • Size of vessel capable of traversing the Panama Canal pre-expansion: 4,400 twenty-foot equivalent units (TEU).
  • Size of vessel capable of traversing the Panama Canal post-expansion: 12,600 TEU.

While the Panama Canal’s safety record has improved significantly in recent years, as noted above many expect this trend to reverse itself in the wake of the long-awaited expansion.

A Recent Example: Cargo Vessel Sinks in the Panama Canal

Even if the number of accidents in the Panama Canal remains relatively low, each individual accident still serves as a stark reminder of the dangers seamen face on a daily basis in the canal and on open waters. Consider, for example, the sinking of a cargo ship in January of 2016. The ship was empty of cargo and waiting to be sold for scrap, but still had a crew onboard when it collided with another vessel in the Atlantic Ocean near the canal. The crew members were fortunate enough to escape unharmed, but under different circumstances this type of accident could have easily resulted in serious or fatal injuries.

Injured Offshore? Speak With a Houston Maritime Lawyer at Morrow & Sheppard LLP

With offices in Houston, TX, the maritime attorneys at Morrow & Sheppard LLP provide experienced legal representation for seamen who have been injured in the Gulf of Mexico, the Atlantic Ocean and the Panama Canal. If you were injured on the job, we can help you fight to win the compensation you deserve. For a free, confidential consultation about your rights with an experienced attorney, call (800) 489-2216 or contact us online today.