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Thursday, 23/05/2013, GMT+7

A costly lack of control

On the bridge of the bulk carrier the Master was talking on the telephone to the Chief Engineer while the pilot was wondering why the ship was losing speed.

The New Zealand pilot and two Indonesian bridge team members were not “in the loop” as the discussion between the Master and Chief Engineer was conducted in their own language of Korean, despite the fact the ship’s working language was supposed to be English.

The conversation between the two had been caused by a malfunctioning valve in the engine’s cooling system that had triggered an automatic slowdown followed shortly afterwards by shutdown just as the Hanjin Bombay, outbound from the port of Tauranga on New Zealand’s Bay of Plenty, was executing a turn.

The loss of speed through water reduced steerage and lead to the grounding in June 2010. Fortunately, there was no pollution, although the ship, which was freed two hours later on a rising tide, suffered enough hull damage to require dry-docking.

The report into the incident has only just been published by the New Zealand Transport Accident Investigation Commission (TAIC). In the intervening period, another grounding occurred in the same area after an engine shutdown and, with far greater consequences, the containership Rena grounded on a reef in the Bay of Plenty, although the latter did not involve any mechanical failure.

The Hanjin Bombay report says if the pilot had known in time there was a problem he could have ordered tugs that had earlier escorted the ship, laden with a full cargo of logs, out of port to return and try to prevent the grounding.

It also questions why the Master had not manually over-ridden the automatic shutdown, although it acknowledges doing so would have probably damaged the engine.

The TAIC report also suggests greater involvement of engineering staff in navigational matters might prevent similar incidents. “Engine-room crew can become ‘immersed’ in their own environment, focused solely on the performance of the machinery and unaware of the overall situation,” the report says.

In this particular case, if the Chief Engineer had known the ship’s passage had reached a critical stage as it turned to starboard out of a channel, the report suggests, he might have warned the bridge earlier.

The Chief Engineer had four staff at his disposal, it points out, but none were dedicated to communicating with the bridge. It puts forward as a safety initiative the installation of duplicate chartplotter screens in engine control rooms “to help crew maintain awareness of the vessel’s location”.

“Had [the Chief Engineer] been aware, at a glance, where the ship was in the channel he could have surmised it was not a good time have main engine problems, warned the bridge team early enough for them to alter their plans and prevented the grounding,” says the TAIC report.

The incident was not an isolated case of engine failure in New Zealand waters. The report notes that in a 30-month period (starting before the Hanjin Bombay grounding) there had been 30 reported instances of machinery or equipment failures on ships in New Zealand pilotage waters.

Indeed, nearly a year and a half after the Hanjin Bombay incident the containership Schelde Trader grounded in almost the same spot as the bulk carrier after it too lost power when the oil-mist detector was activated, triggering an automatic shutdown. Again, the incident caused no pollution and the ship was quickly refloated.

“The number of defects that are causing accidents and incidents in New Zealand pilotage waters is of concern,” the report says. That concern is shared worldwide and has been heightened by problems encountered in switching fuel as ships enter an Emissions Control Area (ECA), although this was not an issue in this or other incidents in New Zealand waters.

An analysis of more than 700 claims related to engine failures lead the UK P&I club last year to point out ships that were “effectively out of control” had caused extensive damage to, among others, berths, bridges, cranes and moored ships. Claims had also been made after “costly” collisions and groundings.

It too suggested there should be better communications between engineers and deck officers, with each keeping the other better informed of their plans and actions.

In New Zealand the port of Tauranga now requires ships to inform it in advance of any planned in-port maintenance work on main engines or critical auxiliary systems. This enables its pilots to make risk assessments and ships could be asked to take risk-mitigating measures, such as having tugs act as passive or active escorts.

The port also maintains a database of ships that have experienced technical malfunctions during port transits, while pilots and ports share on a routine but informal basis information about ships with both technical and “crew performance” problems.

The report, which rates the crew performance on the Hanjin Bombay as well below best industry practice (nobody on the bridge except the Master, it says, had taken part in the pre-departure briefing with the pilot), recommends this gathering and sharing of information should be placed on a more formal and national level.

Maritime New Zealand (MNZ), the government agency responsible for shipping safety, already publishes a monthly list of accidents and incidents on its website, with that for April including two unnamed foreign-flag ships – one in transit and one leaving its berth – that suffered blackouts, although power was quickly restored in both cases.

While the TAIC report criticises the way in which the emergency was managed by those on the ship, it also points out that the port’s risk assessment under its safety management system had not fully addressed the risk of outbound vessels suffering propulsion or manoeuvring failure at critical locations in the entrance channel.

If the risks of ships losing power through engine failure and of crews being unable to respond adequately to emergencies are perceived to be too high, countries like New Zealand might be more likely to take measures into their own hands. Loss of control could then prove even more costly.

By Andrew Guest

Source: Bimco.org (22/5/2013)

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