TSB: Contaminated lube oil caused tug’s engine to overheat, seize

A tugboat lost power on British Columbia’s Fraser River last year when the engine seized because the system had never been completely flushed out and cleaned after past major engine failures, investigators found.

The 80-foot Jose Narvaez was towing the empty barge TCT 8000 down the South Arm Fraser River under the command of the mate when the engine-room alarms sounded at 0303 hours on Feb. 11, 2014. The chief engineer looked into the engine room and saw gray smoke but no oil spray or fire. At 0305 the main engine shut down.

The tug Pacific Force took Jose Narvaez and the barge under tow. The tug Seaspan Tempest aligned the barge TCT 8000 behind Jose Narvaez and towed them to the Lafarge marine dock. At 0725, Jose Narvaez and TCT 8000 were secured.

In its report, Canada’s Transportation Safety Board (TSB) noted that Jose Narvaez had experienced previous engine failures in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

The TSB found that the lubricating oil was contaminated with the products of combustion, fresh water, and/or antifreeze, as the system had never been completely flushed out and cleaned after past major engine failures, despite being recommended by the manufacturer. In addition, the lube oil cooler was not maintained as per the manufacturer’s recommendations. It developed internal leaks that further contaminated the lubricating oil system with fresh water and anti-freeze.

“The contaminated lubricating oil resulted in two choked oil cooling pipes, lacquer and varnish formation on the bearing surfaces (affecting bearing lubrication), and a loss in pressure,” the TSB report stated. Investigators noted that “the loss of lubrication and piston cooling that resulted from the contaminated oil caused cylinder units 3 and 7 to overheat. This overheating damaged the rubber seal between the cylinder head and liner, causing cylinder cooling water to leak into the main engine crankcase. This exacerbated the overheating of the rest of the engine, and eventually led to its seizure and the loss of propulsion.”

The report warned that “if companies do not ensure that engine maintenance is conducted according to the manufacturer’s recommendations, the engine may not function as intended, thereby increasing the risk of an accident. … If an alarm system is not fitted in the recommended position, the crew may not be alerted to an unsafe condition and may be precluded from taking timely action.”

Following the occurrence, Jose Narvaez owner Lafarge initiated the establishment of a weekly meeting within the company’s Marine Division to ensure review of safety procedures, drills and preventive maintenance at the beginning of a shift.

Lafarge had contracted the maintenance and repair of the oil lubrication system to a third-party servicing company that specializes in both oil lubrication systems and the particular brand system fitted to Jose Narvaez at the time of the incident, Jennifer Lewis, a spokeswoman for Lafarge, wrote in a statement to Professional Mariner.  

Subsequent to the incident, Lewis added, Lafarge has spent over $2 million upgrading the engine and tug monitoring systems, including fitting appropriate sensors and alarms consistent with the recommendations of the TSB report. In addition, Lafarge has undertaken a review of its preventative maintenance and contracting approach, and has implemented improvements aimed at further mitigating the risks identified by the Jose Narvaez incident.

By Professional Mariner Staff