Flawed propeller blade leads to loss of propulsion on boxship

(WASHINGTON) — A containership’s propeller blade cracked, leading to a loss of hydraulic oil and propulsion while transiting the Pacific Ocean, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) said Tuesday. The investigation found a blade on the vessel’s controllable-pitch propeller system did not meet manufacturer design specifications.

The containership Maunalei was traveling to Portland, Ore., from Anchorage, Alaska on Aug. 11, 2022, for dry-dock repairs when the crew intentionally shut down the main engine due to problems in the controllable-pitch propeller system, resulting in a loss of propulsion about 245 miles from the entrance to the Columbia River near Portland. The vessel’s controllable-pitch propeller system may have lost up to 1,632 gallons of hydraulic oil. Damage to the vessel was estimated at $3 million.

The five-blade controllable-pitch propeller on Maunalei, showing a fracture (inset) at the base of the No. 4 blade. U.S. Coast Guard photo

Upon dry docking, a third-party company found the cracks and fractures at the base of the No. 4 blade of the five-blade propeller, where the blade was bolted to the propeller’s hub. The cracks initiated at the blade’s bolt hole counterbore radius and were consistent with progressive cracking due to high cycle fatigue.

The company found the No. 4 blade did not meet manufacturer design specifications for engineering, material and chemical composition. The bolt hole counterbore radius was 0.2 millimeters smaller than the required 0.8 millimeters. It did not meet materials specifications for impact toughness, tensile and yield strength or percent elongation, and the silicon content exceeded the specified minimum.

The five-blade controllable pitch propeller on the Maunalei showing a fracture (inset) at the base of the no. 4 blade. (Source: U.S. Coast Guard)

Investigators found the crack and fracture that developed on the No. 4 blade was likely an isolated occurrence, as the blade did not meet specifications and a manufacturer’s analysis of other five-blade controllable-pitch propeller systems on similar vessels did not identify any other instances of cracks.

Following the loss of propulsion, the blade manufacturer revised the internal radius requirement – enlarging it – for all seven-bolt hole counterbores to improve fatigue fracture resistance.

Click here to read the complete report.

– National Transportation Safety Board

By Professional Mariner Staff