Failure of a Piston Rod Results in Engine Failure and Fire on Board Vessel

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Summary:

On 7 September 2017, the 15.87m crew transfer vessel, Windcat 8, was on passage to Grimsby, UK, from the Lynn Wind Farm in the North Sea with two crew and eight windfarm technicians on board. Shortly after setting off, the vessel’s port engine suffered catastrophic damage and caught fire. The passengers were quickly transferred on to Windcat 31 and the fire was contained within the port engine space and soon extinguished. Windcat 8’s port engine was badly damaged and the vessel was towed to Grimsby by Windcat 30. There was no pollution and no injuries.

Probable Cause:

The MAIB investigation identified that the catastrophic damage to Windcat 8’s port main engine was caused by the failure of a piston connecting rod big end shell bearing, which resulted in the connecting rod assembly releasing and penetrating through the engine crankcase.

Finding:

The investigation also identified that:

  • A high oil temperature alarm prior to the engine failure warranted a more cautious approach to the use of the engine until a deeper technical investigation could be conducted.
  • The fire resulted from the ignition of oil vapour released from the damaged crankcase and did not spread beyond the port engine.
  • The fixed fire extinguishing system was rendered ineffective because not all the port engine space vents were closed prior to its release.
  • The safety of the passengers was given a high priority.

Conclusions:

  • The damage to the port engine was caused by the failure of a piston connecting rod big end shell bearing, which led to the connecting rod assembly releasing and penetrating through the engine crankcase.
  • A high oil temperature alarm prior to the engine failure warranted a more cautious approach to the use of the engine until a deeper technical investigation could be conducted.
  • The fire resulted from the ignition of oil vapour released from the damaged crankcase and did not spread beyond the port engine.
  • The fixed fire-fighting system was rendered ineffective because not all the port engine space vents were closed prior to its release.
  • The safety of the embarked technicians was given a high priority

Action Taken:

  • Instructed crews on board vessels fitted with Volvo Penta D16 engines to stop the affected engine when a high oil temperature alarm activates, and not to restart the engine until the reason for the alarm has been determined.
  • Identified lessons to be learned from the accident and emergency response that will be highlighted in future crew training.
  • Programmed additional fire drills on board its vessels.
  • Ensured that signage on board its vessels reminds crew to close vent systems before activating engine space fire suppression systems.

Recommendation:

A recommendation has been made to Windcat Workboats BV Ltd, which is aimed at improving its crews’ reactions to engine alarms and engine space fires.

  • Provide training and guidance on the action to be taken for all critical propulsion alarms, and to introduce measures to ensure its crews understand the principles of the installed fixed fire-fighting systems and are fully familiar with procedures for their operation.

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Source: MAIB

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