Coast Guard: Oil filters weren’t changed before Staten Island crash

The U.S. Coast Guard has issued a safety alert about oil filter maintenance following a May 2010 accident in which a Staten Island ferry collided with a pier.

In July, Ken Olsen of the Office of Investigations and Analysis issued the alert to the industry after investigators discovered that the ferry Andrew J. Barberi had no procedures for routine changing of oil and filters in its propulsion units.

The National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) and Coast Guard are still investigating how the ferryboat — the same one involved in a fatal accident in 2003 — failed to reverse its engines and crashed into a terminal pier May 8. Early indications pointed to mechanical failure.

The 310-foot vessel was on a trip from Manhattan when it experienced a hard landing while docking at the St. George Ferry Terminal on Staten Island.

Olsen issued his alert July 22. He noted that the ferry was equipped with cycloidal drive units fore and aft, but the recommendations are relevant to all vessels.

Barberi‘s propulsion units provide thrust forward, backwards, athwartship or any combination of direction, Olsen said. The unit is controlled by two hydraulic rams actuated by control oil delivered from electro-hydraulic solenoid operated spool valves. Control oil for operation is piped from a branch of the main lube oil supply to the propulsion unit and flows through one of two canister filters. The oil then proceeds to two, three-position spool valves. An electrical signal sets the positions of the valves to control flow to the hydraulic rams to regulate output of the propulsion unit. Two other electro-hydraulic valves are in the circuitry to complement operation.

“Investigators discovered that several of the spool valves failed to operate as designed, were sluggish and stuck in various positions,” Olsen wrote. “Lube oil samples were taken from the filter housings and appeared highly contaminated. Investigators learned that no replacement filters or spare valves were available onboard or in stock at the nearby maintenance facility. The operator had previously purchased a complete control assembly consisting of new electro-hydraulic valves and filter housings, which was on hand in storage. This system was installed post casualty and once replaced, the system worked as designed and required only minor adjustment.”

Olsen said the ferry was operated, maintained and managed by multiple levels of engineering personnel on board and ashore.

“They failed to recognize that the canister filters required routine replacement and that poor oil quality could contribute to improper operation of the solenoid valves,” he said. “Further, no one identified that the Safety Management System and vessel Maintenance Management systems failed to provide a line item for the lube oil filters despite a requirement for routine changing in the associated equipment manual.”

So the Coast Guard strongly encourages vessel operators to perform a “preventative maintenance gap analysis” by reviewing technical manuals and ensuring that the maintenance is actually performed.

The Staten Island Ferry is operated by the New York City Department of Transportation, which declined to specify whether it agrees with all of the Coast Guard’s findings in the safety alert.

“We continue to inspect and maintain our oil systems,” the city department said in a statement. “We understand that the NTSB’s investigation has not concluded, so we have no further comment at this time.”

In the May accident, the crew took action to warn the passengers of the impending impact. The fire department reported 36 people were transported to hospitals, most with minor injuries. There was minor damage to the vessel and terminal slip.

Bill Bleyer

By Professional Mariner Staff