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Main engine failure on the rise

INCIDENTS involving main engine failures are on the increase and have more than doubled during the last five years, according to independent tanker owners’ organisation Intertanko. Intertanko managing director Peter Swift said that, whereas 10 years ago concerns were more focused on structural issues, there was an increasing number of main engine incidents as “ships were being worked harder and people were being worked harder”. While there was an obvious correlation with the boom time in the shipping industry, other issues included fuel quality and quality control of subcontractors of main engine components, Dr Swift said.
As machinery became more complex, there might also be training issues. While Dr Swift said that there had not been an incident of a big tanker going aground because of main engine failure, insurers, P&I Clubs, and classification had picked up on the increasing number of incidents. The industry was considering workshops to consider how to tackle the problem. These would also include the bunker industry and engine manufacturers, Dr Swift said. “If ships are being overworked, perhaps having a bit of balance is not a bad thing,” he said, referring to the economic slowdown. However, it was not all bad news, as fuel bills were down and previous high prices had encouraged owners to reduce emissions, he said. Rising unemployment might encourage more people to consider a career at sea, while lower steel prices made repairs cheaper and there would be less pressure on repair yards. “People are not going into this poor. We have a much better fleet that five years ago.” The tanker industry was the most proactive in tackling issues like the environment as the sector had good charterers, responsible owners and was “under the spotlight,” Dr Swift said. Being at the forefront of measures to tackle environmental issues was “natural for us,” he added. These measures include combating greenhouse gases, which is high on the agenda at the International Maritime Organization, recycling, and biofouling, which has received less attention. Australia and New Zealand have been at the forefront of introducing measures to combat biofouling, by which harmful weeds and growth on the outside of hull are transferred, to ensure vessels entering ports there do so with clean hulls. Options are being considered to deal with the problem. “It is a paint issue,” Dr Swift said. But technical input was also required to indicate which parts of a ship’s hull were likely to attract most weed and growth build-up. In view of the cost of specialist paints, this was a serious consideration, he added. Intertanko has also been participating in high level discussions on the piracy issue, including involvement in the production of a booklet, led by the Oil Companies International Marine Forum on practical measures to avoid, deter or delay piracy attacks. The association’s marine and chemical director Howard Snaith acts, with representatives from BP, P&O Cruises, Wilhelmsen and Exxon Mobil, as a Merchant Navy liaison officer at the UK-based Maritime Security Centre. The centre groups together European military forces, including the navies, airforces and armies of various European countries. Capt Snaith explained that the liaison officers were able to talk directly to shipping companies and can provide details or advice on group transit times and speed of transits through waters at risk of piracy. The industry representatives also liaise with the navy over weak points on different ship types to ensure that protective measures for ships can be put into place, Capt Snaith said. He urged companies with ships that are transiting the East African coast to register on the MSC’s secure site to receive up to date information, alerts and details of transit times. He also said it was vital that ships in the area reported to the Dubai-based centre of UK Maritime Trade Operations on a six-hourly basis as this helped naval forces to track merchant ships in the area. Guidance on a range of self protective measures ships could take provided a “visible deterrent” to pirates. Intertanko is also planning to roll out an electronic version of its Tanker Officer Training Standards in the next month or so. TOTS is intended to provide the tanker industry with a standard that ensures tanker officer competence through onboard and short training, and to ease the problem that tanker owners have with different “officer matrix” requirements of certain charterers. TOTS was first launched in April 2008 and had been taken up widely, according to Capt Snaith.

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