When I was working for Texaco, I had the unique opportunity to visit the Vessel Management and Admeasurement Section of the Marine Traffic Control Center to learn the details of the transit reservation and scheduling system for vessels transiting the Panama Canal. It was awesome. For a moment, I felt inside a James Bond movie. The technology of this section is state-of-the art. You could see on a giant screen all the vessels transiting through the canal in real time using GPS technology.
A transit, or passage of a ship through the canal, is planned carefully. While it is still far out at sea, an approaching vessel, depending upon its position, radios either the office of the port captain in Cristobal, on the Atlantic side, or in Balboa, on the Pacific side.
Marine traffic control centers prepare transit plans. The rule of “first come, first served” cannot always be followed. Some ships are so large they must be classified as clear cuts. This means that the canal, particularly through twisting Gaillard Cut, has to be cleared of oncoming ships. Then for a definite time certain sections are open only to one-way or clear cut traffic.
A daylight clear cut is a ship which can proceed safely only in the daytime in a one-way channel. Not only large ships, but any vessel with dangerous cargo falls into this class.
In operating the Panama Canal there are never-ending problems. Some are similar to those of land highways. Increasing traffic has required widening the lanes. “Street lights” have been put in for night safety. One-way traffic is necessary at times. Modern traffic control systems have been installed.
The Panama Canal, because of its location, size, and type of construction, has problems unlike those of any other transportation link in the world. This is why the Department of Marine Traffic Control is so vital to the operation of the famous international waterway.
Below are several pictures of the building of the Marine Traffic Control Center located at La Boca, a few feet from the entrance of the Panama Canal. Here we go.
This area is very sensitive to the Panama Canal’s authorities. I had to get a clearance from the security guard to take these pictures.
The Panama Canal works on a 24/7 basis and can accomodate approximately 32 oceangoing vessels transits per day. The accident’s ratio is almost nonexistent. Good Day.