94X01 Tanker BRAER, Loss of Power, Going Aground

20 Jan 1994

 Tanker BRAER, Loss of Power, Going Aground
- Shetland Isles.
- Report No. 7016.

A lot has been written about the tragic incident involving the loaded tanker BRAER going aground in the Shetland Islands after a loss of all power during severe gales in January 1993. It is not always easy for seafarers to get the details of the Official Reports into such accidents, therefore I have taken extracts from the 76 page report drawn up by the Marine Accident Investigation Branch of the UK. Full copies of this report can be obtained from HMSO Publications Centre, P. O. Box 276 London SW8 5DT. Telephone for orders 071-873-9090, or 071-873-0011 for general enquiries about HMSO Publications.

The BRAER sailed from Mongstad, Norway on 3 January 1993 loaded with 84,700 tonnes of light crude oil bound for Quebec, the planned route was via the North Fair Isle Strait. In addition to the normal crew of 29, a Superintendent from the Management Company and 4 Polish fitters were on board. The Superintendent was a Pakistani national and held an Extra Chief's certificate. He had recently been given managerial responsibility for the vessel and was on board to familiarise himself and prepare for a forthcoming classification survey. It was the practice of the Managers to place fitters on board their vessels as "riding crews" on certain passages in order to carry out routine maintenance and repair work while the vessel was at sea.

The BRAER encountered adverse weather as soon as she cleared Mongstad and there were severe southerly gales for the whole of the passage. On the following morning 4 spare steel pipe sections, which had been secured on the port side of the after deck, broke loose and were rolling between the port side of the engine casing and the ship's port rails.

During the evening of 4 January, after routine adjustments to the auxiliary boiler, difficulty was experienced re-igniting it. This boiler provided steam for the pre-heating of the heavy oil for the main engine and, pending the resumption of normal steam pressure, the main engine was changed from heavy to diesel oil.

When the Second Assistant Engineer (2EO) came to take the watch at midnight, the Third Assistant Engineer explained what had happened. The two engineers went to check the igniter, it was removed, found to be working and replaced. The firing sequence was tried again several times without success. Consequently, the coupling in the fuel line to the boiler was then disconnected and water contamination was discovered in the diesel oil (d.o.). The line was drained until uncontaminated oil was seen to come from it, then reconnected. The burner was changed and the firing sequence tried again several times without success. The Superintendent visited the engine room shortly after 0200 and tried to help the 2EO, at 0230 the Chief Engineer (CEO) was called and after his arrival further attempts were made at firing the boiler. The d.o. settling tank drain valve was opened and the tank was found to contain a mixture of oil and water, the d.o. service tank was also found to be contaminated. The CEO told the motorman to drain the settling and service tanks until uncontaminated oil appeared. The First Assistant Engineer arrived in the engine room at 0345. The d.o. in the tanks was not effectively settling out over the water due to the rolling of the vessel, although the purifier was apparently operating successfully. At 0400 the engine speed was reduced to 85rpm to conserve diesel fuel. At 0410 the Superintendent woke the Master and explained the difficulties, they went together to the bridge to look at the charts to find a suitable anchorage and it was decided to steam towards the Moray Firth, some 100 miles SW of their position.

Attempts to drain the water from the diesel oil tanks continued, but at 0440 the main engine stopped, followed shortly afterwards by the failure of the generator. The vessel was 10 miles to the south of the southern tip of Shetland and her Master advised the Aberdeen Coastguard Marine Rescue Co-ordination Centre via Wick Radio of the loss of power and the vessel's position, saying they were not in immediate danger (call timed at 0515). BRAER was drifting to the north at about 2 knots, but this was not known at that time. At 0526 Shetland Coastguard (CG) contacted the vessel by VHF and asked the Master what his intentions were. He replied that he did not require a helicopter as all the crew were safe, but did require a tug as soon as possible. During subsequent conversations with Shetland Coast Guard (CG) the Master asked about the charges for towage, CG explained they did not have any dealings with towage charges. The Master then asked CG to telephone the management in the USA to discuss towage charges. The ship manager in the USA said he would have to contact the underwriters and would call back. During the conversation with the Master CG also contacted Sullom Voe Port Control to inform them that tugs might be needed. At 0609 CG again telephoned the ship manager and this time they were given the go-ahead to arrange a tow. Sullom Voe was contacted again at 0610 and they also queried the payment, they were told to contact the ship manager in the USA. In the mean time, after being alerted by CG, Lerwick Port Control arranged with the Master of the STAR SIRIUS (an anchor handling tug/supply ship berthed in Lerwick) to go to the assistance of the BRAER. At 0630 Sullom Voe advised that their tug SWAABIE was being prepared to assist and it would take 4 to 5 hours for her to reach the BRAER.

The decision was made to evacuate the entire crew of the tanker by helicopter at 0827 when it appeared the vessel would soon drift onto the rocks, the evacuation of all personnel from the ship was completed by 0854. At 0905 the helicopter noticed that the vessel had started to drift towards the north west and away from immediate danger and a short while afterwards it was decided to land volunteers on the fo'c'sle of the BRAER to release the anchors. This plan had to be abandoned due to the proximity of the foremast which precluded safe helicopter operations over the bow. STAR SIRIUS had arrived on scene by 0935 and manoeuvred into a position to put a rocket line on the stern of the tanker but could not do so until there was some assistance on the vessel. At 1055 helicopter R117 left Sumburgh with the Master, C/O, Bosun, Superintendent, the Port Safety Manager of Shetland Islands Council and a marine pilot and landed some of them onto the poop of the BRAER. A rocket line was fired from the STAR SIRIUS and the men on the poop managed to get a hold on it. STAR SIRIUS then attached a messenger to the rocket line and the men on the poop started to haul it across, when the messenger was halfway between the two vessels the action of the sea pulled the rocket line out of their hands. About a minute later, a large wave lifted the stern of the BRAER and at 1119 the vessel landed heavily on the rocks on the west side of Garths Ness.

The MAIB report found the ship to be reasonably managed and the Master and officers experienced and qualified for their jobs. The vessel had been built in 1975 as a conventional single-hulled crude oil carrier. The owners had bought the vessel in 1989 and had a fleet of 12 tankers. The Master had been at sea for 27 years, all the time on tankers, he was issued with a Greek licence as Captain Class A in 1980 and was first appointed Master in 1985. He also held a Liberian Licence of Competence as Master and he had been in command on 10 different tankers up to 423,000 dwt. The Chief Engineer had been at sea for 33 years and was issued with a Class A (1st Class Engineer) Greek licence in 1975 and also had a Liberian Certificate of Competency. Records of inspections in 1992 show that the vessel was inspected no less than four times under port state control procedures in Europe, Canada and the USA. Only one report showed a deficiency, which was minor. A flag state inspection by an appointed surveyor had been carried out in June that year and she was also inspected by the charterers.

The four spare steel pipes that were on deck were stowed fore and aft against the port side of the engine casing. They were about 5m in length, two of them were about 250mm diameter and the other two were about 450mm. It is not clear when, or for what purpose, the pipes were originally put on board, but they were there in October 1992 and in the meantime the BRAER had made three loaded passages, two of them across the North Atlantic in winter. The C/O stated that he considered the pipes were well enough secured for summer passages but needed better securing for winter passages. After discussions with the Master and the engineers it was agreed in November 1992 to put this in hand. On a ballast passage, the deck fitter, assisted by engine ratings built a rack around the pipes. The existing uprights were replaced by three longer angle bars extending above the top of the stack. Three similar uprights were inserted between the pipes and the casing. Flat bars were then laid across the top of the stack and bolted to the uprights. The uprights were welded to the deck and where these and the flat bars bore against the pipes they were spot welded. Some of the pipes were also spot welded together and additional short bars were placed between adjacent pipes and also spot welded.

The officers were criticised in the report for spending their entire watches that day inside the wheelhouse and for making no attempt to check the state of items stowed on the after deck. The report also states that the Master displayed a fundamental lack of basic seamanship by not taking any action to observe the damage being caused by the loose pipes, or to "heave to" with the weather on the starboard bow and make an attempt to restrain or jettison them. The report also suggests that the Superintendent and the Chief Engineer spent a long time trying to drain off the water from the diesel oil, time which could have been better spent analysing the situation and trying to discover the source of the water whilst the junior engineers were draining it off.
If the CG had passed the request for towage directly to STAR SIRIUS at 0530 she would not have been able to reach the scene before 0830. At this time the Master had accepted the advice of the helicopter to abandon ship and evacuation of the remaining crew had just started. BRAER was reported to be half a mile south east of Horse Island and thought to be in imminent danger of grounding.

Consideration was given to the likelihood or otherwise of a different outcome of the accident, had the CG immediately relayed BRAER's firm request for towage, say at 0530, by HF and VHF broadcasts to 'all stations' as well as by telephone calls. Sullom Voe tug SWAABIE started to prepare for sea at 0600, The necessary preparations for sea involved calling in two extra deck hands and replacement of harbour towing gear with sea towing gear. These preparations took until 0815 when SWAABIE put to sea , followed later by the tug TIRRICK. By the time the BRAER grounded the two tugs were passing Lerwick, with more than 20 miles still to go.


  • The stopping of the main engine and loss of power was due to serious salt water contamination of the common diesel oil supply to both the main engine and generator.
  • The initial contamination occurred after sea water entered the storage tank via the damaged air pipes.
  • The damage to the air pipes was caused by the spare pipes stowed on the after deck which broke loose.
  • The danger that these loose pipes posed to the integrity of the fuel air pipes was not appreciated by the Master or anyone else on board.
  • The Superintendent, Master and engineers failed to realise the cause of the sea water contamination.
  • Repairs to the control system of the auxiliary boiler and resultant consequence of changing over to diesel oil when it failed to re-ignite fell within normal watchkeeping duties.
  • Towage was requested by the Master at 0526, approximately 45 minutes after the loss of power. It was not possible for towage assistance to be given before the decision to abandon. The decision to abandon was correct as the vessel was in imminent danger of going aground.
  • Access to the anchors by the crew prior to abandonment posed a risk due to extreme weather conditions. However, a safety rail was fitted on the lee side of the deck and access could have been successfully accomplished by competent seamen.
  • It was not possible to land personnel on the fo'c'sle head to release the anchors due to the proximity of the foremast.
  • BRAER had valid Convention Certificates and was structurally sound with no significant deficiencies.
  • The Master and Officers held valid Licences of Competence.
  • The route as planned was a normal route, commonly followed.
  • The securing arrangements for the spare steel pipes on deck had proved adequate during previous Atlantic crossings in adverse weather.
  • The condition of the machinery, according to available evidence, suggests that although a back-log of repair and maintenance work had built up, this was being rectified by the use of 'riding crews' and organised 'off hire' repair periods. There was no evidence of neglect or lack of maintenance.
  • The Master's decision to make for a sheltered anchorage in the Moray Firth was the right one, on the advice given to him. He did not call for a tug immediately as he was in open water and believed that power could be restored under the direction of the Superintendent, a highly qualified and experienced marine engineer.
  • The decision to request towage at 0526 was correct, but should have been supplemented by a request to 'all stations' using the appropriate Urgency prefixes.
  • The Master made no effort to ascertain the direction and rate of drift, even after being asked to do so by CG, means to do this were available to him.
  • The decision to evacuate non-essential crew was timely and correct.
  • The Superintendent, engineers and ratings who remained in the engine room and continued efforts to restore power until the last possible moment did so with little regard for their own safety.
  • CG failed to relay the Master's request for towage assistance as soon as possible and by all available means; the telephone calls made after his initial request lacked urgency. However, even if the available tugs had been despatched with the minimum of delay, none of them could have reached BRAER before the final abandonment commenced.
  • BRAER did not ground as soon as expected because of an outflow of water from West Voe, set up by the severe onshore gales, halted the vessel's drift and set her to the south and into the wind. She was then set to the west and passed Horse Island under the influence of the west going tidal stream. Once past the island she was again predominantly influenced by the southerly gale.
  • CG were not given a clear and urgent mandate to plan and organise efforts to avoid the grounding after the abandonment. With the STAR SIRIUS on the way, there should have been early contingency planning to prepare for her arrival in parallel with the planning to land people on the bow. There is no evidence that this lack of forward planning contributed to the grounding.
  • The co-ordination of the evacuation was competently organised and the helicopter crews carried out their duties in a most exemplary manner in very adverse and dangerous conditions.
  • The Master and crew of the STAR SIRIUS displayed excellent seamanship and did all they possibly could to establish a tow. In the best traditions of the sea, the tugs and Lerwick lifeboat put out to sea without hesitation when asked to do so. Those who volunteered to return to the ship, especially the four who were landed on the stern, displayed bravery and determination in a very dangerous situation.
  • Since the accident, Coastguard Instructions have been amended to make it easier for them to summon towage assistance to a casualty and the following arrangements are under consideration:

All Coastguard rescue centres will maintain an up-to-date database of all tugs in their areas. Lloyds Intelligence will be informed immediately (after lifesaving action, if any, has been initiated) whenever a vessel is considered to be in jeopardy. The Senior Watch Officer will determine at the earliest opportunity the availability of the nearest tugs which might provide assistance. He will alert the vessels, brief their Masters and urge the Master of the casualty to employ them. If the Master of the casualty refuses, prevaricates or fails to give any positive intention that he wishes tugs to attend, the Duty Regional Officer will make a clear formal statement to the Master or owner that the Department will itself employ tugs to stand by on scene and will seek to recover costs from the owner or his insurers.