Ship grounded as the result of a blackout.
What did the reporter tell us?
The vessel was en route to the discharging terminal with a pilot onboard when there was a blackout and a loss of propulsion. The emergency power was restored within 18 seconds, the main power restored within two minutes and the main engine made available again within four minutes. The engineering team reacted very quickly and promptly. The master, in discussion with the pilot, decided to beach the vessel to keep the channel clear of any traffic until power could be restored and engines tried out fully. USCG and Flag State Administration were informed. Onboard Investigation by the port engineer revealed that, due to an oversight, the standby generator had not been kept on ‘Auto’ during the passage. The blackout was caused by the concurrent operation of deck machinery and engine compressors, without there being sufficient reserve electric power to cope with this load.
The third generator should have been kept on load; in anticipation of the additional bow thruster load being applied during pre-arrival testing that took place ahead of the imminent vessel berthing. The inexperienced master panicked and in an effort to show his command to the pilot, called the engine room six times within three minutes, asking each time for the chief engineer to answer him and thus diverting the focus away from the emergency at hand. The beaching could have been avoided as the emergency power was restored within 20 seconds and emergency steering was available, of which the master and the officer of the watch were not aware. The weather and visibility at all times was good. There was no pollution, injury or damage to the vessel or the environment.
The lessons to be learnt
During critical passages, sufficient reserve power should be available at all times and it should be ensured that the ‘Auto Start’ function is available should the power demands so require.
Testing of the bow thruster, or other machinery, should be conducted in sufficient time and in open waters, where sudden load changes do not jeopardise the safety of the vessel, as is the case in confined waters.
Emergency drills should include the testing of steering on emergency power and all members of the bridge team should be aware of the location of these switches.
Blackout simulation drills and the actions to be taken in confined waters, including the steps to be taken when the vessel grounds, should be part of realistic drill scenarios.
Calm, concise and precise closed-loop communication is essential in emergency situations. A good understanding between heads of departments is invaluable at such times. How well this is done in an emergency depends entirely on how well and efficiently the two departments communicate during routine times.
CHIRP noted the breakdown of the safety management system and appreciates the way the reporter identifies the need for full teamwork and training, including the need for regular drills to be conducted that involve both the bridge and engine room teams. Having a coherent, workforce owned procedure for the efficient pre-arrival testing of the main engine and other essential equipment is also identified here as being critically important.
The company Standard Operating Procedures (SOP’s) should always include a ship specific, workforce owned, pre-arrival checklist that contains the requirement to always conduct a pre-arrival and pre-departure briefing to ensure that the whole team (deck and engine) has a shared mental model of the operation to come and thus bring about effective and efficient teamwork.
See also: (1) USCG Code of Federal Regulations 33. 164.25….. No vessel may enter, or be operated on the navigable waters of the United States unless the emergency steering drill has been conducted within 48 hours prior to entry and logged in the vessel logbook…..
(2) SOLAS V Reg. 26 requirements are subtly different – drills/training are referenced in paragraph 4. https://mcanet.mcga.gov.uk/public/c4/solas/solas_v/Regulations/regulation26.htm
(2) SKULD P&I Club briefing “USA, MISSISSIPPI: HIGH RIVER SEASON – RISK OF GROUNDING” (March – May) when stronger currents may be experienced.