Engine fails to start upon sailing


A report highlighting a main engine failure and demonstrating the reason that pre-departure checks are carried out.

What the reporter told us:

The main engine failed to start on departure from the berth. The ship’s electrician had somehow disabled the main engine after repairing the bow thruster which had failed on arrival.

Further dialogue:

The vessel involved was a large (294m LOA) container vessel which was moored in a restricted basin. There was another vessel moored 26m ahead, the end of the basin was 50m astern, and another vessel was secured on the opposite side of the basin 100m away. According to the captain and the bridge logbook entry, the main engine had been tested 30 minutes before the pilot came on board. Based on that information the pilot proceeded to utilise two harbour tugs to pull the vessel off the berth and into the middle of the basin before calling for the first engine movement – whereupon the engine failed to start.

Deciding it was too dangerous to attempt to put the ship back alongside with tugs alone, the decision was made to tow the ship out to a safe anchorage. Five minutes into this operation the main engine became operational. The ship proceeded outwards under her own power with tugs in attendance as a precaution.

Once the main engine had started the pilot asked the captain how it was possible for the engine to have been tested as stated but then fail to start. The captain’s reply of “engine too powerful,” which confused the pilot, was not elaborated upon.

CHIRP comment:

After discussion, our Maritime Advisory Board members noted the following points.

The Master / Pilot exchange must reflect the actual situation with regards to equipment status and operability rather than what should be or what we hope it to be.

The meaning of testing the main engine should be clarified. A lot of engines are tested ahead and astern on fuel. However, some engines are only tested on air whilst alongside because of the excess thrust when fired on fuel with the potential to damage moorings. Perhaps this is what the Captain meant with the phrase “engine too powerful”.

Port arrival and departure passage plans should always have a plan “B” in case the first choice becomes unavailable. In this case plan “B” worked perfectly with the already secured tugs easily capable of towing the ship from the confined basin to a safe anchorage.

A lot of modern engines have a reset mode that stops them starting. On the first physical start of the engine, it can be 20-30 seconds before the propellor starts to turn. This would be a matter of system familiarity by the engineers and electrician and good communications between the engine control room and the bridge.

Furthermore, regarding system familiarity, check lists are great aids to highlight any link or commonality between remotely located machinery (main engines / bow thruster etc.).

Finally, problems can occur, even after the most rigorous checks and physical tests, in which case early and good communications are the answer to minimise the problem’s effects. It is also necessary to overcome any cultural reluctance for the control room to volunteer that there is a problem.


Report Ends ……………..