This report was a referral from ISWAN (International Seafarers Welfare Assistance Network).
What the reporter told us:
A seafarer asked us to report to you some issues related to their engine which he thinks compromises the vessel’s navigation safety. According to him, they are unable to navigate at full speed because of the engine issues and the situation may be especially hazardous when there are large waves and strong winds.
The vessel involved was a ten-year-old ‘Supramax’ geared bulk carrier of 57,000DWT, several days into an ocean passage.
The ship had sailed five days previously but on the day after sailing the engine problems started. Two days after sailing the ship was stopped for 10 hours to change an exhaust valve and piston. The parts fitted were not new but rather ‘used but good’. After the engine maintenance, the vessel resumed passage but only an hour later had to reduce speed due to exhaust valve and temperature issues, the vessel then had a speed of 3-5 knots. The weather at the time was wind force 6-7 with a wave height of more than 4m.
The captain and chief engineer were of one nationality with all other ranks being of a different one.
The following day the reporter emailed CHIRP Maritime that the engine was better, and the plan was to increase speed after further checks on the fuel injectors.
Although CHIRP Maritime attempted to contact the reporter again, there was no further engagement, although we did follow the vessel’s progress to its port of destination on a vessel tracking site.
The MAB members felt this report covered two separate issues – first leadership and transparency of communications, and second machinery maintenance and critical spares.
While there is a lack of technical information about the vessel’s machinery, its fuel quality or what deviation from operational norms dictated repairs at sea, the following observations on good seamanship and engineering practice remain applicable. It was also brought to the MAB’s attention that the very act of contacting ISWAN and CHIRP took courage on the part of the reporter and reflects the serious concerns there must have been on board the ship.
With regards to leadership and transparency of communications, in the current world of multinational crews, this aspect of the human element is more critical than ever. While resting principally with captains and chief engineers, all senior personnel including bosuns have a responsibility to keep the crew informed.
CHIRP Maritime feels that it is incumbent in the training of all senior officers that they ensure effective communications are established concerning operational safety throughout the vessel. It is a well-established fact that good communication loops are instrumental in good safety performance.
Communication issues extend ashore to management offices, which also have a responsibility to keep the crew on board informed. When a ship goes to a high-risk piracy area, the management company should always inform the crew of any precautions taken or risk assessments undertaken. This report reflects badly on the vessel managers, since a good company system would have given assurances to the crew that internal issues and concerns onboard can be raised with the office.
Regarding maintenance issues and critical spares carried on board, the fact that major maintenance and repairs, undertaken at sea, utilised items that had been used before suggests that the vessel carried insufficient critical spares, which in turn brings into question the shore management’s attitude towards vessel maintenance.
Ships should not stop mid-voyage due to engine issues. Routine and preventive maintenance should be scheduled and carried out between voyages.
CHIRP Maritime also feels that sufficient critical spares must be carried to mitigate the likely impact of unplanned maintenance as well as routine maintenance. Reliance on spares that have been used before is very unwise unless they have been sent ashore for reconditioning; they should not be part of the complement of critical spares. Company internal audits should seek to establish realistic inventory levels of critical spares.