Routine engine room job caused grounding

Swedish Club’s Monthly Safety Scenario for March covers a case of a grounding that was caused by a routine job in the engine room. The vessel concerned was drifting outside Newfoundland during winter, waiting for an ice advisor to board. The weather deteriorated and to stay clear of the heavy weather it was decided to sail to more sheltered waters and pick up the ice advisor. The master used 20 b/w photocopies from the British Admiralty for the area.

Not long after following an ice checklist, the third engineer standing watch noticed a rise in temperature in the freshwater cooling system. He called the chief engineer, who attributed the rise in temperature to a blockage in the low sea chest suction. The chief engineer closed the low sea chest valve and opened the high sea chest valve to lower the fresh water temperature.

However, the flow of seawater through this line was obstructed. The master agreed with the chief engineer to draw water from the forepeak ballast tank. The chief engineer arranged all the appropriate valves in the engine room. The master then went to the ballast control room, where he opened the necessary valves to allow water to begin circulating within the seawater cooling system, which in turn lowered the fresh water temperature.

Suspecting a build-up of ice, the chief engineer unbolted the cover of the housing containing the low seawater strainer. As the crew were clearing the ice and slush, they noticed water beginning to overflow from the seawater strainer housing. The second engineer went to the low sea chest valve, where he attempted to tighten the valve by hand, but he could not close the valve, probably because ice was blocking the valve disk. The crew were not aware that the valve disc had not fully closed, nor did they have the visual means to verify that the valve disc had reached its closed position, as the indicator was not working.

The second engineer, not being able to move the hand wheel, then attempted to tighten the valve by using an F-key, at which point the valve operating mechanism failed. The hydrostatic pressure on the valve disc pushed the unsecured valve operating mechanism upwards, allowing an uncontrollable inrush of seawater into the uncovered seawater strainer housing, soon overflowing into the engine room. Multiple attempts to secure the cover on the seawater strainer housing were unsuccessful.

Within about 10 minutes the water in the engine room was about four meters deep and had reached the level of the grating deck, from which the crew were still attempting to secure the cover on the seawater strainer housing. On seeing electrical sparks, the master ordered that the vessel be blacked out and the engine room evacuated. The vessel drifted aground the following day as no salvage tug could reach it in time.

Swedish Club observed that, among other things, “the charts the vessel had for the area were not sufficient for navigation. It is mandatory to have updated and correct charts onboard for the intended voyage.” Various other actions were taken that were incorrect in the circumstances, fully itemized here: