Crew of LNG tanker that lost power lacked training in restarting engine manually

A liquefied natural gas (LNG) carrier experienced a five-day blackout off Massachusetts in 2008 because of dirty relays that caused a low-water level in the boiler and because of inadequate training of the crew on how to restart power manually, U.S. Coast Guard investigators have determined.

Catalunya Spirit lost power from both main generators Feb. 11, 2008, and drifted in the Atlantic Ocean about 50 nm southeast of Boston.

Z-drive tugboats were able to bring the loaded 932-foot ship under tow, averting a grounding on Stellwagen Bank shoal, the Coast Guard said in an investigative report.

The incident prompted the Coast Guard to recommend a more frequent component-cleaning regimen and improvements in engineer training, according to the report, which Professional Mariner obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.

The Spanish-flag ship lost power during a voyage to the Distrigas LNG terminal in Everett, Mass., from Trinidad and Tobago.

A problem was detected on the vessel’s feed water pump, the chief engineer reported. Other alarms were triggered, and Catalunya Spirit lost its main and emergency generators.

“Lloyd’s Register and technicians attended the vessel and found two relays to be dirty. As a result, the main boilers shut down due to low water level,†the Coast Guard investigators wrote.

“Once the crew cleaned the oil mist detector, they restarted the main diesel generator, but were unable to engage it on the main switchboard,†the report said. “Two ABB technicians did find that the crew failed to properly reset the diesel generator breakers which resulted in the generator not being able to be engaged on the main switchboard.â€

The crew was accustomed to operating the circuit breakers using computer software and not manually, the Coast Guard said.

“The engineer was not familiar with the physical reset of the 3.3-kv breakers due to the nature of the engineering system being active all the time,†the Coast Guard investigators wrote. “The system is a computer ‘point-and-click’ system. The engineer was not familiar with the actual reset of the breakers in the main bus room due to the fact that they hadn’t had to use them before.â€

The point-and-click nature of the system “makes the crew so dependant on the computers that they became incapable of effectively using the manual controls on the system,†the report said.

What should have been a short power failure lasted five days because of “inadequate training,†the investigators determined.

“If the crew had reset the breaker properly, then the vessel would have restored power in less than an hour,†the report said.

The Coast Guard investigators said the crew should clean the relay components more often.

“The diesel generator oil mist detector, according to the current maintenance plan, must be cleaned monthly,†the Coast Guard said. The report recommends that “the company amend the maintenance plan to require a weekly versus monthly cleaning of the oil mist detector.â€

The Coast Guard also recommended that the Catalunya Spirit crew install two additional alarms for monitoring pressure on the auxiliary steam to provide advanced notice of a problem. The operator also needs to develop a procedure on how to properly reset the diesel generator’s breakers after a blackout.

Catalunya Spirit’s owner is Teekay LNG Partners. The company, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, didn’t respond to a request for comment.

Dom Yanchunas

By Professional Mariner Staff