In anticipation of opening its third set of navigation locks in late 2014, the Panama Canal Authority has ordered 14 new tugboats from Spain’s Astilleros Armon. The shipbuilder, which maintains yards in northern Spain, will receive $158.3 million to cover the construction, testing and phased delivery of all 14 boats, which will be tractor-type tugs with a bollard pull of 70 tons. Unlike the existing locks at Panama, which use mechanical ‘mules’ mounted on rails to guide ships through, the new locks will operate with tugboats assisting the transit of vessels.
The Panama Canal currently maintains a fleet of 36 tugs which are used to escort, dock and manoeuvre 14,000 ships annually. In the past fiscal year, which closed on 30 September, the Canal set a new tonnage record of 322.1 million Panama Canal tons (PC/UMS), surpassing the previous record of 312.9 million tons set in 2007. A PC/UMS ton is equal to 100ft3 of a vessel’s water displacement.