When a ship’s engine caught on fire due to a mechanical problem the crew, who had been prepared for the possibility of a fire, responded professionally, prevented injuries and mitigated damage to the vessel.
Damage to the ship was estimated at $1.1 million, but it would have been much worse if the crew had failed to respond properly.
Vessel recently had an engine overhaul
On May 27, 2022, the offshore supply vessel Ocean Guardian was conducting sea trials in Shilshole Bay near Seattle, Washington.
The vessel had been docked since August 2021 for maintenance, with an overhaul performed on all four main diesel generator engines in January and February 2022. This included top-end overhauls, bearing inspections and replacements, if necessary.
In May 2022, the crew performed operational tests of the engines and propulsion control systems at reduced loads while the vessel was docked. For a full test, the Ocean Guardian needed to operate in open waters, leading to a sea trial during the week of May 23, 2022.
Captain holds safety meeting prior to sea trial
On the morning of May 27, 2022, the captain held a safety meeting with the 22 crew members and discussed details about the sea trial, including muster locations and responsibilities in the event of an emergency.
Because the engines hadn’t been fully tested, two tugboats towed the vessel out of the shipyard and into open waters. The captain requested that one tugboat remain nearby to shadow the Ocean Guardian in case of an emergency.
Flames engulf No. 3 main engine
At 2 p.m., the crew began the trials by slowly bringing the engines up to full power. All went well until 2:35 p.m. when the engineering crew in the engine control room heard a loud bang and observed smoke in the engine room. One of the engineers saw flames engulfing the No. 3 main engine. Up to this point, there had been no abnormal alarms observed on the engine monitoring system.
The chief engineer activated the emergency remote stops to shut down the engines from the control room and reported the fire to the captain. The captain used remote emergency stop switches on the bridge to shut down engine room ventilation fans and shut down fuel supply valves for the engines.
Engine room crew members evacuated the engine spaces, verified that everyone exited and then had the captain close the watertight doors remotely. The captain radioed for both tugboats to come back for assistance. The second mate mustered and accounted for all crew members and contractors.
Chief engineer, crew members coordinate to extinguish fire
Meanwhile, two fire teams dressed out in firefighting gear and waited on standby near the engine room. At 2:40 p.m., after consulting with the captain, the chief engineer activated the vessel’s carbon dioxide (CO2) fixed fire-extinguishing system to discharge all 28 bottles of CO2 into the engine room.
After the fixed fire-extinguishing system was discharged, two crew members using self-contained breathing apparatus (SCBAs) entered the engine room and found smoldering fires near the No. 3 main engine. They reported the fires to the bridge and extinguished them using handheld fire extinguishers and a bucket of water.
The captain and chief engineer declared that the fire was out at 3:09 p.m. By 4:24 p.m., both tugboats had lines on the Ocean Guardian and began towing the vessel back to the shipyard.
Fire team monitors area, catches flareup
Over the next several hours, crew members re-entered the engine room in SCBAs to monitor the temperature of the No. 3 main engine with an infrared thermometer and to look for flareups. At 4:58 p.m., they found a smoldering fire below the deck plates near the No. 3 main engine and dumped a container of aqueous film forming foam concentrate to extinguish the fire. They continued to monitor the temperature and reported that these temperatures declined after the fire was extinguished.
The captain notified maritime authorities that he was returning to port and stated that he didn’t call for emergency responders to meet the vessel as it docked since everything appeared to be under control.
At 5:52 p.m., the Ocean Guardian was again docked in the shipyard. Over the next several days, the crew performed roving watches in case of another flareup.
Mechanical failure due to installation of wrong-sized bearing
The result of the fire was $1.1 million in damages to the vessel. There were no injuries and no pollution thanks to the efforts of the crew.
National Transportation Safety Board (NSTB) investigators found that the probable cause of the mechanical failure in the No. 3 main engine was the replacement of crankshaft main bearing with an incorrectly sized bearing during the engine overhaul in January and February 2022.
The NTSB report stated that the engine service technicians failed to identify the removed bearing’s part number, resulting in them using a replacement that was the wrong size. This led to the loss of lube oil pressure in adjacent connecting rod bearings, which resulted in the mechanical failure and fire.
Being prepared kept crew safe, mitigated property damage
This incident could have been much worse. The actions of the captain and crew prevented injuries and kept damage to the vessel to a minimum, under the circumstances.
Consider that no one onboard knew that a fire would break out. However, the captain began the sea trial with a safety meeting to prepare the crew for the possibility of an emergency. He knew that with all the work that had been done to the ship some type of emergency could occur. That led him to prepare his crew by reminding them of their individual roles and responsibilities in an emergency situation.
Then, when an emergency occurred, the crew was able to respond professionally as a team to extinguish the fire and monitor for flareups while on the way back to the shipyard.
Being prepared for the emergency made a big difference between what actually happened and what may have turned into a catastrophe.