Misfiring Cylinder that Ignited Lubricating Oil in the Sump of the Engine

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Damaged starboard engine aboard The Admiral after the fire.

On July 14, 2016, the towing vessel ‘The Admiral’ was moored alongside barges in the La Quinta Channel, Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, Texas, when its starboard main engine oversped and then exploded, resulting in the death of a crewmember.

The incident:

The Admiral had left its Illinois homeport on June 18, 2016, and arrived at the Texas job site on June 29.

The crew of the vessel, a captain, a pilot, two deckhands, a first engineer, and a second engineer were instructed by the company to restart the engines every 24 hours during extended delays.

Thus the crew ran the engines at idle speed for about 2 hours and then they would shut them down for the rest of the day.

Aerial view of The Admiral standing by barges after the accident.

Each engine was stopped by pushing an emergency stop button on top of the governor, which was mounted on the front of the engine, or by using the fuel rack lever to limit the fuel supply to the engine, National Transportation Safety Board noted.

At the day of the accident, the second engineer noticed an unusual sound, which he described as a “ticking sound,” coming from the inboard aft part of the starboard main engine while it was at idle speed.

After an inspection by the first engineer, he attempted to stop the engine by pushing the emergency stop button on top of the governor. However, the engine accelerated and white smoke began billowing from the starboard stack.

After that, the engine exploded injuring many the crewmembers.

Governor emergency stop push-button and fuel rack handle of The Admiral’s starboard engine.

The pilot believed that he used a button on the alarm panel in the wheelhouse to stop the port engine, but investigators confirmed that there was no stop button in that location.

All crewmembers were tested for alcohol and other drugs following the accident. The test results were negative except for the second engineer, who tested positive for a prescribed medication that was administered during medical treatment, according to NTSB.

Probable cause:

According to the National Transportation Safety Board, ​the probable cause of the engine explosion and resulting fire aboard the towing vessel ‘The Admiral’ was a misfiring cylinder that ignited lubricating oil in the sump of the engine.

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Source: NTSB

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