Machinery Damage due to Engine Failure

In recent years, many Owners and their insurers have observed an increase in the number of engine failures. Many of these have been costly, not only due to the machinery damage itself, but also to substantial financial claims from salvors when towing is required. Engine failure can be caused by external factors such as stranding, fire, collision or other general factors. This section addresses general causes of engine failure, which can be averted or reduced by surveillance, maintenance, and careful daily routines.


Loss Mitigation

In the table below, we list some common incidents that can cause major engine breakdowns if left untreated. Accompanying the list are recommendations for how the ship’s crew can prevent these incidents.

Incident Solution
Thermal overload Never place so high a load on an engine that it runs at higher than the maximum temperatures indicated in its instruction manual.
Fuel oil problems

Drain settling and day tanks in both morning and evening rounds.

Run fuel oil centrifuges at the correct density ring and at a rate that matches the daily consumption. This optimises cleaning of the oil.

Have oil analyzed by an institute such as DNV Petroleum Services or Fobas. Do not use newly bunkered oil until the result of the analysis is available, and adjustments have been made for any deviations relative to the oil previously used.

Cooling water problems Maintain compliance with engine manufacturers’ specifications for unfiltered water and cooling water inhibition at all times.
Lubricating oil problems

Check lubricating oil weekly.

Maintain compliance with engine manufacturers’ specified brand/type of lubricating oil in relation to the fuel oil being used.

Have samples of lubricating oil analysed at least every three months, and follow the recommendations made in the analysis report.

Turbocharger problems

Maintain compliance with the engine manufacturer’s specifications for water wash and replacement of lubricating oil and turbocharger bearings.

Be on the alert for, and immediately fix, if any incipient noise, shaking or vibrations that develop.

Alignment problems Perform deflection measurements of the main engine crankshaft twice a year, before and after docking, and after grounding or major steel repair work. Significant changes in measurements can reflect a change in alignment; investigate them before start-up.
Torsion vibration problems Maintain compliance with the engine manufacturer’s recommendations for controls of torsion vibration dampers. Increased torsion vibrations can cause failure in the engine’s register drive, flexible clutches, and other parts.
Reduction gear problems

Check the gearwheel tooth contact pattern at least every three months.

If there is a change in the gear performance, consult the gear manufacturer immediately since this can be the first indication of a defect in the bearings.

Maintain compliance with the manufacturer’s specifications for oil filter replacement. Take immediate action if the differential pressure over the filters increases, or if metal particles appear in the filters.

Failure in alarm and safety systems

Check the vessel’s engine alarm system daily, and repair any defects immediately.

Check the engine’s safety functions (automatic stop functions, quick closing valves, over speed, oil mist detector, etc.) frequently.

Outflow of oil Ensure that the insulation and shielding is intact at all times. Escaping oil due to defective or lack of shielding and insulation of hot surfaces, such as exhaust pipes, turbo-chargers and boilers, has caused many engine room fires.
Water in engine room

Work the sea valves and overboard valves, which are always non-return valves, at regular intervals to keep them in operating condition.

Before leaving a vessel unattended in port (coasters, fishing vessels, pilot boats, laid-up vessels, etc.), close all sea valves and overboard valves except overboard valves for automatic discharge pumps.

Check the operating condition of water-level alarms in cofferdams, wells, etc., weekly, and repair any defects promptly.

Insufficient compliance with recommendations in the manuals with regard to ordinary service and maintenance work

Use the maintenance tables in the instruction manual as a guideline for overhaul dates, and follow the repair guidelines.

Empty starting air receivers once a week. Oil accumulated in the starting air system can cause a major explosion.

Keep records of engine repair work and maintenance work, including entries of repair work date(s) and the running hours for the individual components, in addition to the statutory engineers’ logbook, Notices and Memorandum to Owners, and oil record book.


Notification of the Owners

The Master must report the incident to the Owners, and provide at least the following information:

  • Time of engine failure, specifying the local time zone
  • Position of vessel
  • Current condition of vessel
  • Weather conditions and the forecast for the next two days
  • Indication of the exact machinery and component(s) that failed
  • Clear and accurate indication of the extent of the failure, and whether it has resulted in, or may result in, the engine being fully or partially out of order
  • If possible, the cause of the failure
  • A description of the repair work required and any spare parts that need to be delivered to the vessel in addition to usable spare parts on board
  • The position numbers of the damaged parts as they appear in the instruction manual (number of table or page) or in drawings. To identify the engine parts, use the same names as in the instruction manual

    Immediate Action After Engine Breakdown

    In the event of engine failure and if the engine alarm goes off, promptly check the cause of the alarm and consider what remedial action to take, including stopping the engine.

    If engine failure prevents the vessel from reaching port under its own power, consider having spare parts or special tools delivered by other vessels or by helicopter, or whether towing is required. The hull insurer may assist the Master in tug options and contract recommendations.