Reliance on Hunch


Every decision that one makes in a ship at the management level, may not be based on scientific reasoning. Troubleshooting judgement could at times be emerging out of just a gut feeling. Here is one such case.

M V Orient spirit was arriving at Dammam on a pleasant evening in the year 2001. Being the then Chief Engineer of the ship, I gave instruction to second sab to open the under piston space of unit one of main engine on berthing and checked the tightness of piston skirt holding nuts. This work was in addition to the already prepared list of maintenance for Dammam port stay. He, as well as others probably could not understand why this check had to be done when all the units were checked for this tightness in the normal course, periodically. On what hunch this unit is now chosen to open up and inspect?. My Engineers were not fully convinced of the need to open it up at that time. (Main Engine MAN K 65Z 70/150, 9900 KW)

Shocking discovery: The advice, having come from bada sab, under piston door of the unit was opened up on berthing of the ship. Space was first cleaned up and an attempt was made to check the tightness of the nuts with the extended spanners. Alas! The first nut itself was slack. On proceeding further, it was discovered that six out of eight holding nuts were slack. It was only a matter of hours before the piston skirt would have fallen down when the engine was in operation, causing a major breakdown. Thereafter, the engine room staff worked overnight to replace the piston assembly before the scheduled departure of the ship, the next day.

Feeling the engine: A few of the engine room staff could not suppress the curiosity and asked me the question “How did you know about this condition without seeing?”

The old practice of ‘feeling’ the engine during watch keeping is relevant even today, in spite of having all types of modern sensors. Being an old timer, this Chief Engineer relied very much on ‘touch and feel’ of the running machineries. In the present case, the closest, one could get to the moving piston is near the inspection door or under piston cover on the port side of the engine. One who carefully and regularly feels the pulse of rhythmic knocking or chattering of the moving parts can differentiate the variations in comparison with other similar units or the same unit itself during the previous check.

STCW 78 as amended: Section A-II/1 and A III/1 of STCW Code lay down the minimum standard required of a watch keeper for navigational and engine room watch respectively. Seventeen specified competences are supposed to be acquired by one, to keep an independent engineering watch. It is a matter of pride for Indian seafarers that these competences, now introduced by IMO, were known to them much earlier and also were acquired and practised by them traditionally, well before the Code was implemented.


A true story from the experience of Prof. Dr. K. A. Simon, Director K M School of Marine Engineering, Cochin University of Science and Technology, Cochin.

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