Pilots Corner – More engine issues

In this edition of Feedback, (Edition 63), we have gathered a further selection of reports dealing with different aspects of engine issues encountered by the pilots who reported them.

Was it an engine issue or a communication issue?

What the reporter told us (1):

On departure from the berth, the container ship exhibited main engine problems. Engine revolutions were restricted to 37rpm (between Dead Slow and Slow Ahead). As a precaution, the tug was kept in attendance until the vessel had cleared the channel and the engine issues were allegedly rectified. No explanation was given by the captain.

Further dialogue:

  • The reporter clarified the following points.
  • The Master/Pilot exchange reported no defects or deficiencies.
  • The engine tests prior to departure were carried out satisfactorily.
  • The first engine movement, once the vessel had been swung off the berth, was when the engine failed to respond as the reporter expected.
  • The engine eventually gave 46rpm (roughly Half Ahead)
  • The reporter was given no indication that the engine issue had been resolved by the time he disembarked or any explanation why the engine failed to respond as expected.
  • After disembarking the pilot, the vessel proceeded to its next port. The pilot station at the next port was notified of the issue.

CHIRP contacted the DPA who readily engaged, which allowed details of the report to be passed on. After checking with the vessel, the DPA responded. “We have verified with the vessel and the master confirms that there was absolutely no issue with the main engine on departure from the port in question. It is possible that the RPM came up gradually due to less underwater clearance in the channel which the pilot misunderstood as a restriction on the main engine.”

Not being familiar with the vessel’s sailing draft or the available depth of water CHIRP felt unable to comment further, but the DPA’s response was forwarded to the reporter to close the loop on the communication. The reporter’s final response was to note… “At no time was I informed of any restriction on the main engine due to lack of under keel clearance. The pilot card made no mention of this and the master failed to pass this on”.

CHIRP comment (1):

After discussion, the MAB noted the following.

  • Modern slow speed marine engines and power management systems do not respond in the same way that older medium speed engines did in the past.
  • Ship handling with restricted under keel clearance can be a significant issue when handling large vessels.
  • The manoeuvring characteristics of a ship included in a vessel’s pilot card are normally ascertained during the builder’s trial, which is most often carried out in open water.
  • If the reduced revolutions were a normal function of the limited under keel clearance due to increased load on the engine, the captain may not have perceived them as a problem and therefore did not think he needed this limitation to be highlighted or explained to the pilot.
  • Pilots are very well trained nowadays and are trained to anticipate increased engine load due to limited under keel clearance.


Better to keep going than stop

What the reporter told us (2):

After clearing the inner harbour without incident and proceeding outwards at slow ahead, the engine was put to half ahead but the main engine alarm sounded about one minute later. The engine room advised it was the main engine main bearing alarm and requested to stop the engine at the earliest opportunity to investigate. The master was advised the engine was OK to proceed at Slow Ahead until there was an opportunity to stop.

Tugs were attending the imminent departure of another ship, one of which accompanied our vessel outwards as a precaution.

Regular requests were made to the engine room to advise on the condition of alarms and the main engine. Assurances were given that temperatures were not increasing. The pilot encouraged the master to keep the engine going, considering it was prudent for the vessel to proceed if possible, to safer water outside rather than investigate within the harbour. The vessel proceeded to the heads without incident with a tug escort and once clear of port limits proceeded to deep water to investigate.

Further dialogue:

The bridge team and engine room team were multinational with English as the common language; however communication was not easy. The regular requests to the engine room for status updates were initiated by the pilot. The water depth was very limited within the harbour to anchor and investigate.

After disembarking, the pilot and port heard nothing further from the ship.


Once restarted, do not slow down

What the reporter told us (3):

The vessel was LOA 261.84m, beam 32.00m with a conventional propeller and rudder with a single bow thruster.

After letting go and clearing the berth, the vessel built up speed to 12 knots for outbound transit. Just before turning to port to negotiate the main bend in the channel, the vessel lost power to the main engine.

The momentum of the vessel assisted in making the turn safely before the ebb tide started to take effect. The bow thruster was used to keep the vessel in the middle of the channel, but a breeze and ebbing tide started to set the vessel to starboard towards the channel limit. Although the vessel still had headway, it was dropping rapidly into the breeze.

The master was frantically trying to get the engineers to restart the engine, first from bridge control, then engine room control and finally from the emergency local platform. Just before the vessel lost sufficient headway to let go anchors, the main engine was restarted from the emergency local controls.

The main engine was unresponsive for 14 minutes in a very critical part of the pilotage.

Harbour Control was kept informed once the situation was assessed. Both harbour tugs were manned up and ready to head out and assist (ETA would have been close to 30mins at least), the Harbour Master was kept informed of the events by Harbour Control.

With the main engine being operated from emergency local control, it seemed like the engineers were giving revs for Full Away as the vessel rapidly picked up speed and passed the breakwater at close to 17 or 18 knots.

The Master tried to have the engineers reduce the revolutions, but I requested them to be retained to clear the harbour without any further incident now that the vessel had emergency propulsion.

When queried, the master mentioned it was a ‘faulty fuel rack’ that was the cause of the main engine shut down.

Additional information:

The buoyed channel is the only deep water between the heads and the berth for the vessel to remain afloat. The channel is about 300m wide and is narrower in some parts making it very limited for anchoring a 262-meter-long vessel.

CHIRP comment (2 + 3):

After discussing these two reports the MAB noted the following.

  • While the bridge team needs to know what is happening, answering telephones can be a distraction from the task at hand.
  • Once the question, “how long will it take?” has been asked with a request for regular updates and notification of any change in status, let the engineers get on with their job.
  • Confidence and trust between departments are crucial but it takes time to establish, while language and cultural differences can make that establishment harder.
  • Companies make conscious decisions to engage multi-national crews and must accept that their decision can have consequences in terms of efficiency.


Report Ends……………………..