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After nearly 10 years of construction and delays, the Panama Canal expansion finally opened for business on June 26, 2016. While the expansion is expected to bring the Panama Canal Authority (known by its Spanish acronym, “ACP”) an additional estimated $2.1 billion in annual revenue by 2021, the ACP is far from the only entity expecting to rake in the profits as a result of the long-awaited opening.

Ports throughout the southeastern United States and along the East Coast have also been spending billions to upgrade their facilities so that they can receive the larger ships – nearly three times the size that could previously fit through the canal – that will soon be calling thanks to the expansion.

As we recently discussed, companies across numerous industries are expected to benefit from the opening of the expanded Panama Canal, and major retailers like Walmart and Ikea are already unrolling plans to transport significantly more cargo through the Port of Houston. This means new job opportunities; but, unfortunately, it could very well mean new safety risks as well.

Private Investigation Firm Warns of Safety Risks with the Panama Canal Expansion

For example, as reported in Port Technology, the private investigation firm PGI Intelligence has already warned of numerous potential dangers associated with the design and construction of the Panama Canal expansion. Some of these risks include:

  • The new locks may already be too small. The larger (so-called “neo-Panamax”) ships that will be using the new locks are just six meters thinner and 61 meters shorter than the newly-opened expansion. With tugboats shepherding these stadium-sized vessels through the locks at the front and rear, this leaves extremely little room for error – especially in bad weather.
  • Engineers have also expressed concern over the structural integrity of the new locks, due primarily to cracks discovered during testing last Summer.
  • While the ACP is currently only allowing four vessels through the expanded canal per day, it plans to increase this number to 13 or 14 vessels in the future. More traffic could easily translate to more accidents and injuries.

If these or other issues lead to shipping delays, this too could lead to an increased risk of injury for maritime workers onboard vessels navigating through the Panama Canal. When profit margins are at stake, history has shown that shipping companies and other major corporations more than willing cut corners – even if it means putting their employees’ safety on the line.

Will Larger Ships Put Workers at Greater Risk for Injury?

Although not mentioned in the investigative report cited above, another potential risk has to do with the immense size of the ships that will be calling in the Southeast and along the East Coast as a result of the expansion. With nearly three times the cargo being delivered in a single shipment, workers onboard vessels and operating trucks, cranes and other heavy equipment on land are likely to face more hectic – and potentially more dangerous – working conditions as companies adjust to the huge increase in cargo volume resulting from the Panama Canal expansion.

Injured at Work? Speak with a Houston Maritime Lawyer for Free

Morrow & Sheppard LLP is a Houston maritime lawyer firm that represents land-based and offshore workers in claims for financial compensation. If you were injured on the job in Houston, the Gulf of Mexico or the Panama Canal, we can help you protect your rights. To speak with an experienced attorney in confidence, call (800) 489-2216 or contact us online and schedule a free consultation today.