93037 Fire, Engine Room - Pilot Saved v/l

06 Feb 1993 MARS

Fire in Engine Room
- U.K. Fine and clear. Wind N.E. x 25 knots.
- Report No. 93037.

The pilot boarded the vessel at the requested time to proceed to sea. The vessel was a geared bulk carrier, in light condition, trimmed by the stern and with the forefoot out of the water. The departure manoeuvre was one which had been used on numerous occasions on this and other similar vessels. After singling up the mooring lines, the vessel would let go aft, come away on the fore spring, come astern from the berth, and swing to starboard with the use of the helm and engine, assisted by tug "A" pushing aft and a smaller tug, "B", pushing forward. In this case the vessel let go and came away very easily with the strong offshore breeze. She swung in the tide without the use of engines. However, when the first engine movement of Dead slow ahead was ordered, the engine did not start. As the vessel continued to swing and drift astern with the effect of the wind and tide, it became evident that the engine was not going to start and the vessel would need to be drifted downwind in as controlled a manner as could be managed. The port anchor was let go to one shackle, then the vessel dredged down with the assistance of helm as required and successfully berthed starboard side alongside the South side of the harbour with no apparent damage to the vessel. Several facing pieces on the vertical wooden fendering on the berth were crushed.
Half an hour later the engine was started and tested and the vessel was declared ready to proceed to sea. The forward lines were let go and both tugs used to push the bow off the quay whilst the vessel was held on the after spring. As the vessel came away, Dead slow ahead was ordered and the after spring let go. Shortly after, the tugs were ordered to stand clear and accompany the vessel to sea, Slow ahead was given on the engine. Two minutes later Half ahead was ordered, this order was shortly followed by a telephone call from the Engine Room which produced concerned looks on the faces of the Master and Chief Officer. The pilot, who suspected further difficulty, ordered a tow rope to be lowered from the bow.
The Pilot was then informed by the Master that the engine was on fire and must be stopped immediately. The Pilot ordered the forward tug to take the tow rope and advised the Master that, as the vessel was one mile from the open sea, stopping the engine would undoubtedly leave the vessel in a perilous situation leading to foundering on the rocks to the South of the channel. The Pilot advised the Master to leave the engine running as long as possible, in order to give time to secure the tug forward.

Four minutes later the vessel had reached a position 5 cables from the open sea and the tug was fast forward and towing at full ahead on a heading of approximately East North East to counter the effects of the wind and tide. There was by this time extreme concern in the wheelhouse about the situation in the Engine Room and the engine was stopped.

Six minutes later the vessel was observed to be setting South Easterly across rocks situated due South of the channel entrance and the vessel was felt to take ground. The second tug was requested to take a line from the bow of the ship, this was not possible due to the position of his towing hook and instead he took a rope from the bow of the forward tug to add power to the towing unit.

Shortly after, the vessel was judged to be clear to the South East of the rocks and no further grounding was felt. The vessel was towed to a position half a mile South East of the port entrance and the anchor was let go. A full set of soundings of all compartments was taken which did not reveal any ingress of water. There was no evidence of any oil on the sea and the rudder appeared to be undamaged by the incident.

The skill and seamanship required of the crews of both tugs to make fast and maintain towing lines in the rough sea conditions was commended and was instrumental in preventing the vessel foundering.

An Engine Room fire is just about the most worrying scenario that mariners are required to deal with, particularly in the situation of navigating in a confined channel. The decision to try to keep the engine running to save the vessel could have had dire consequences, in the event, it led to a successful ending of the incident. The reporter states that the vessel continued on her way twelve hours afterwards, which suggests that, although the fire was evidently serious, the Pilot's insistence on not stopping the engine was correct.