Contributed by: Don Winner
By DON WINNER for Panama-Guide.com - Well, it's about time - I was getting tired of waiting. The Panama Canal Authority (ACP) published their Monthly Canal Operations Summary – APRIL 2008 today. The report is dated 7 May 2008 and it came out on their website today. I've been wanting to see this report in order to confirm the continuing existence of the ongoing "malicious compliance" strike by the Panama Canal Pilots. And in fact, yup, it's there. You just have to be able to understand the numbers and statistics being presented, and to be able to analyze and compare Panama Canal traffic and transit statistics over time. In short, the ACP data from April 2008 demonstrates that in fact the Panama Canal Pilots are continuing their "malicious compliance" or "work to rules" strike. (more)
About a Five Week Wait: There are literally hundreds of yachts and private small boats stuck on the Caribbean side of the Panama Canal, and they can't get through in a timely manner. I met a couple of guys who came down on a sailboat from Canada and they said they basically got stuck in Colon, and that there are literally "hundreds" of people sitting around and they don't know what to do.
ACP Party Line Has Not Changed: I still have not seen or heard anything different from the Panama Canal Authority. They maintain that the backlog in the Panama Canal was caused by a few hours of maintenance work that was being done back in February, combined with an unusually high number of arrivals. In fact, that's simply not true. The Panama Canal Pilots timed their work slowdown action to coincide with the seasonally high number of arrivals in order for it to have the greatest impact on the ACP administration. The ACP still has not acknowledged that the pilots are either on strike or doing some kind of a work slowdown action. And, the pilots continue to officially "no comment" on the situation because they can't legally go on strike. So, the classic Mexican stand-off continues.
Total Monthly Transits: In April 2008 1,174 vessels total transited the Panama Canal. This number falls within the normal range, and in fact this dataset does not display any kind of variation from what one would consider to be "standard" traffic levels. Understand, this is the number of ships that actually transit the canal in the month indicated. So, traffic levels and the numbers of ships going through the canal are "normal."
Arrivals and Transits - Daily Average: This chart reflects the number of ships that both arrive and transit the canal on an average day during the reporting month. The ACP has been blaming the backlog and delays in the Panama Canal on unusually high levels of arrivals. In fact you can see that during the peak season (Jan-Apr) of 2007 there were more daily arrivals on average than during the same period of time in 2008. And, you can also see that the numbers of arrivals are falling off (as expected) indicating an end of the 2008 peak season. In addition on this chart you can also see a sharp and unexpected departure (difference) between arrivals going up and transits sharply falling off in February 2008, when the strike started. This difference is what caused or created the backlog in the first place.
In-Transit Time: This slide is the clearest reflection of the "truth and fact" that the Panama Canal pilots continue their "malicious compliance" work slowdown strike. The numbers reflected on the slide above show how long it normally takes for a single ship to transit the Panama Canal. You can see on this slide that in April 2008 the average ship transiting the Panama Canal went from one end to the other in 12.91 hours. This reflects a slight improvement over March 2008 when it took an average of 13.88 hours for one ship to transit. According to the ACP, they are doing everything they can to get ships through the canal as efficiently as possible. If that's true, then why is it taking much longer than what would be considered historically normal to get one ship through the Panama Canal? The answer is that the Panama Canal pilots can add a few minutes here, a few minutes there, and in the end it all adds up to a longer transit
Critically Important To Comprehend: If you understand this, you get the whole enchilada. This is important data because every individual slow moving ship adds up to a massive backlog. In the thirteen months leading up to the strike (Jan 2007 through Jan 2008) the average single ship transit time was 10.84 hours. In the last three months since the strike started it has been taking 12.78 hours on average for every ship to transit the Panama Canal. With the "malicious compliance" strike in place over the last three months it is taking on average 1.94 hours longer per ship to get through the Panama Canal. Remember that 1,174 ships transited the Panama Canal in April 2008. At a "normal" (non-strike) speed of 10.84 hours per ship they would have gotten through in a total of 12,726.16 hours. At the "slow" (strike) speed it actually took 15,003.72 hours to put the 1,174 ships through the Panama Canal, a difference of 2,277.56 hours. This is the best tangible evidence of a work-slowdown or a non-declared strike that you are probably ever going to see. And remember as well that the ACP is telling the international shipping community that they are doing everything humanly possible to reduce the backlog, speed up transit times, and to get the ships through the canal as quickly and efficiently as possible. That is a true statement, of course. The one thing they can't do is take a bull whip to the Panama Canal pilots to make them be happier and to put the ships through more efficiently.
Canal Waters Time (CWT): This chart clearly shows the effect of the strike. The "Canal Waters Time" statistic reflects how long the average ship spends in the waters of the Panama Canal, including time at anchor waiting to get a chance to go through. More than anything else this chart reflects the effectiveness of the "malicious compliance" strike. And again, if the ACP is doing everything possible to clear out the backlog, why is the backlog still there when similar levels of traffic have not caused a backlog in the past? The answer, of course, is the "malicious compliance" strike.
No Contract Yet: So far I understand the ACP and Panama Canal Pilots continue to negotiate on a new contract. The ACP is trying to remove or change some of the elements and work rules in the contract, and they want to negotiate the work rules first and then wages and money. And of course this work action is going a long way to improve the negotiating position of the Panama Canal Pilots, or at the very least it is serving as a reminder or demonstration to the ACP administration of their relative importance to the safe and efficient operation of the Panama Canal.
Timing For Effect: The Panama Canal Pilots timed this strike to coincide with the annual peak traffic rates in February 2008. In other words they slowed down exactly when they normally have to speed up, and the effect was immediate and obvious. But what good is a strike that nobody knows about? The ACP knows. Bet on it.
Still No Mainstream Media Coverage: This strike is now going into its 11th week and there still has not been any real or serious coverage on the situation by the mainstream media. The "big boys" have tighter requirements for using confidential sources and for talking to people who have to remain anonymous. And of course, according to the Organic Law creating the Panama Canal (under Panamanian control since 31 December 1999) employees of the Panama Canal can not strike. So what you end up with is a situation in which the pilots are on strike but they won't talk to the press about it (on the record) and the ACP won't admit there's a strike at all. So, it's a kind of non-event as far as the rest of the media outlets are concerned. Don't worry, I'm all over it. And you can bet that I am neither irresponsible or speculating. It's real. By the way, the Earthrace guys should be pulling into Colon any minute now. I wonder what the Panama Canal is going to tell these guys who are spending millions of dollars in an attempt to break a world record. Sorry, fellas, we're still suffering the effects of a little maintenance work we did back in February...
Copyright 2008 by Don Winner for Panama-Guide.com. Go ahead and use whatever you like as long as you credit the source. Salud.