Main engine – failure to start


An outline of a main engine failure when departing the berth.

What the Reporter told us:

During an unberthing/departure operation at a container terminal, the main engine failed to start. Control was transferred from bridge control to manual local control in the engine room, and after approximately 10 minutes the main engine was able to be started and run ahead. The aft tug remained attached for the passage out of the harbour until clear of the channel. The vessel was deep draft and was restricted to the centre of the channel which at the time was experiencing a strong flood tide. The Master was advised that the problem was a stuck fuel valve on one of the main engine units. The vessel subsequently went to anchor and carried out repairs to rectify the problem. Once completed, the vessel continued on its voyage to the next port.

Further dialogue with the reporter confirmed that it was not normal practice to have an outward-bound escorting tug. With respect to any speed issues caused by the stuck valve, it was confirmed that speed was kept to a minimum to accommodate the escorting tug and to reduce squat in the narrow channel. There was thus no attempt to increase outbound speed.

CHIRP wrote to the company and received the following response;

The main engine failed to start due to non-operational spill valves in the fuel pumps for six units. As a precautionary measure, the vessel tried to start the engine from the local stand in the ER. At this point, failure of the push rods was noted. All were loosened, and from there the vessel immediately resumed normal operations. We suspect the fuel oil quality to be the possible cause as the fuel pumps were recently overhauled by the manufacturer. The fuel oil specification was checked and found to be within ISO specifications. The vessel eventually eased up the push rods and the engine resumed normal operation. We are currently in discussion with the manufacturers as to what exactly triggered this malfunction.

CHIRP Comment

The CHIRP Maritime Advisory Board commented that the response in this case has been positive from the company and is evidence of a good report and the adoption of best practice. In this case not only has the problem been rectified, but moves are underway to ensure that there is no repeat.

CHIRP is aware of other cases where an engine has either failed to start, or that the response has been “sluggish”. Any further reports detailing these issues will be welcomed.

Finally, although not mentioned in the report itself, CHIRP would comment that it is best practice to test a main engine prior to departure by turning it over on both air and fuel. This will necessitate suitable precautions – such as raising the gangway and having personnel standing by moorings.


Report Ends…………..