Four of ship’s six cylinders were broken at time of grounding, NTSB reports

Selendang Ayu, shown here on Dec. 19, 2004, broke into two sections soon after grounding on Dec. 8, 2004, off Unalaska Island. [Courtesy U.S. Coast Guard]

The report from the National Transportation Safety Board on the grounding of the 39,775-gt bulk carrier Selendang Ayu off the Aleutian Island of Unalaska has concluded that the incident was caused by the shutting down of the vessel’s main engine due to a cylinder failure.

The report also reveals that Selendang Ayu‘s engine was in poor shape at the time of the grounding. A single 11,542-hp MAN B&W diesel direct-drive engine powered the vessel. As Selendang Ayu‘s engineers worked around the clock to fix the failed No. 3 cylinder, they discovered that four of the engine’s six piston rings were broken. The 738-foot-long, Malaysian-flagged vessel left Seattle on Nov. 28, 2004, bound for Xiamen, China, with a cargo of 60,200 metric tons of soybeans. On Dec. 6 the engine was shut down. Northwest winds between 22 and 55 knots with seas of 20 to 33 feet made engine repair work difficult and pushed the ship toward land. After efforts to tow the ship failed, the Coast Guard began rescuing the 26 crew on Dec. 8.

At 1700 that day, in the midst of the rescue, Selendang Ayu grounded on a reef just off Unalaska Island. At 1816 an HH-60 Jayhawk helicopter picked up the final seven crew off the bow and was about to bring up the captain and a Coast Guard swimmer when “a wave larger than any yet encountered” struck the bow, sprayed up and engulfed the helicopter’s engine, according to the report. The HH-60’s engine stalled and the helicopter fell into the sea, its tail and main rotor blades striking the vessel’s side. A nearby HH-65 Dolphin helicopter picked up the three Jayhawk crew and one of the Selendang Ayu crew. The other six died, including the chief engineer and the second engineer.

The incident began on Dec. 6 at 1200 when the fourth engineer reported to the vessel’s chief engineer that a jet of water was coming out of the main engine’s No. 3 cylinder, according to the NTSB report, adopted Sept. 26, 2006.

The second engineer stopped the engine after checking the problem himself. He then informed the captain that a liner in cylinder No. 3 was cracked. The vessel was 46 miles from the nearest land, Bogoslof Island. The engineering crew worked all day on the cylinder and attempted to restart the engine, with no success.

At 2300, with the vessel about 90 miles from Dutch Harbor, the captain first attempted to contact the harbormaster on VHF channel 16, with no response. At 2330 on Dec. 6, the chief engineer called the company’s technical superintendent, based in Singapore, for advice. The superintendent asked the chief engineer to e-mail him the steps he took, and then forwarded that e-mail to a representative of the engine manufacturer. That representative suggested a different method to isolate the cylinder.

Finally, at 0245 on Dec. 7, the captain used the vessel’s satellite telephone to reach the harbormaster, who then called the Coast Guard.

At 0555 on Dec. 7, the technical superintendent told the chief engineer to inspect all the cylinder rings. Half an hour later, the chief engineer reported back that all but two cylinders had broken rings. The chief engineer sent a report and digital photos to the superintendent, who later said that lack of compression was the cause of the engine’s failure to restart.

At 1830 on Dec. 7, the 3,000-hp tug Sidney Foss arrived. At the time, the bulker was lying beam-to with 25-foot waves and winds between 45 and 55 knots. By 2004, a 600-foot-long, 9-inch synthetic-line hawser was attached to Selendang Ayu‘s bow. Sidney Foss attempted to tow the vessel to the northwest, but the wind and swell pushed both vessels east-southeast at about 1.5 knots. The tug was unable to turn the vessel’s bow into the wind. At 0732 the towline parted. Seas were keeping the tug’s aft deck awash, which prevented another attempt to put a line onto the freighter.

The Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation determined that at least 335,732 gallons of fuel and marine diesel oil were spilled. It took 17 months and cost over $100 million to salvage the wreck and remove the soybeans and oil.

On March 30, 2005, Selendang Ayu‘s captain pleaded guilty to lying to federal investigators during the investigation, according to the U.S. Attorney’s office in Anchorage. He admitted that he lied to authorities about the time the ship’s engine was stopped, saying it occurred about two hours and 20 minutes later than the actual time. He also told nine crewmembers to lie about the time.

The captain said that he did not enter in the log when or where he stopped. The captain did not call U.S. authorities until 15 hours after the engine stopped. He was sentenced to three years probation.

By Professional Mariner Staff