CHIRP received the following report from a vessel’s captain
What the reporter told us:
At the end of a long river pilotage, the ship was about a mile from the berth and proceeding upstream at slow ahead whilst awaiting tugs. The pilot ordered ‘half astern’, but the engine failed to kick astern. After waiting a few seconds, the telegraph was moved to ‘stop’. The air pressure in the starting air cylinders decreased to 12bar. After waiting a few seconds, a further attempt was made, but again the engine failed to start. The pressure in the starting air cylinders dropped to 7bar. Attempts to call the engine control room were unsuccessful, as nobody answered the telephone. After a further short period, the pressure in the air start cylinders was seen to increase to 22bar, the telegraph was moved to ‘half astern’ and the main engine responded and started to run astern. After this, there were no further issues.
During the subsequent onboard investigation, it was discovered that the new chief engineer had closed the valve between the two start air cylinders but had not told anyone about his action. According to his explanation, he wanted to have one start air cylinder full and ready for use.
CHIRP suggested that a chief engineer on a vessel is at liberty to run the engine room in whatever configuration he believes to be the best and safest, assuming the setup is not contrary to any statutory regulations, SMS requirements or pre-existing standing orders. However, in changing an existing arrangement, it is the chief engineer’s responsibility to ensure that all members of the engine room team are made aware of the change. CHIRP would suggest a written instruction for all engineers to sign, acknowledging the change, should be standard practice. Sadly, on this occasion, that did not happen.
Another worrying aspect of this report is the fact that the engine control station was left unattended during manoeuvring / pilotage operations. Yes, there was an issue in the engine room which needed to be addressed, but good practice would suggest that someone should have remained at the control station if only to answer the telephone. If the engine room were short-handed, a call to advise the bridge that the control station would be unmanned for a few minutes would be preferable to leaving the bridge team guessing.
For clarity, the isolation of engine room starting air receivers should not be encouraged as this potentially minimises the ‘consecutive’ starts of the main engine and may prevent compliance with the IACS rules which state the following:
M61.1.5: The total capacity of air receivers is to be sufficient to provide, without their being replenished, not less than 12 consecutive starts alternating between Ahead and Astern of each main engine of the reversible type, and not less than six starts of each main non-reversible type engine connected to a controllable pitch propeller or other device enabling the start without opposite torque. The number of starts refers to engine in cold and ready to start conditions. There must be at least two starting air receivers, the total capacity of which will give 12 consecutive starts for a reversing engine or 6 consecutive starts for a non-reversing engine with CPP.
Further to the communication issue, the chief engineer and engine room duty staff must keep in very close contact with the captain and the bridge team – especially when manoeuvring or during pilotage. Sadly, ship operators / owners will often invest in Bridge Team Management training but not Engine Room Team training.