A 595-foot bulk carrier ran aground off Newfoundland last year after the engine room flooded due to a sea chest valve failing in icy sea conditions, investigators said.
A prime cause for the grounding was the master’s delay in agreeing to a tow by a nearby Canadian Coast Guard ship, Canada’s Transportation Safety Board (TSB) determined.
The Panamanian-flagged freighter John I drifted 41 nm before grounding along Rose Blanche Shoals off the southwest coast of Newfoundland on March 15, 2014.
The bulk carrier had departed Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, Spain, on March 3, headed for Montreal to load grain. En route, the vessel received information from its Canadian shipping agent about entering Canadian waters, the TSB said in a June 2015 report.
The agent’s document contained a marine safety checklist for operation in ice-infested waters and schematics of different types of cooling systems. The master was required to identify the type of seawater cooling system on board the vessel. Investigators said the master initially indicated that the vessel had a type 2 seawater cooling system. Transport Canada (TC) advised him that a type 2 system is not adequate for navigation in ice-covered waters.
The master then sent further details and a schematic of the vessel’s cooling system to TC. After consulting the schematic, TC determined that the cooling system was of type 4 classification, which met the requirements. On March 13, the vessel neared Saint-Pierre et Miquelon, where an ice adviser was scheduled to embark the next day. When weather conditions worsened after waiting six hours, the master made the decision to proceed without the ice adviser.
While underway, the ship’s cooling system failed when ice blocked intakes. Subsequently, a sea chest valve failed, allowing seawater ingress and flooding the engine room.
“Warmed seawater from the heat exchanger was being both discharged overboard and returned to the pump rather than being re-circulated into the low sea chest,” the TSB wrote. “As such, the seawater strainer became plugged with ice and slush, causing the vessel to lose seawater suction from the low sea chest.”
Further, “when the crew attempted to close the low sea chest valve, the valve disc was prevented from fully closing, likely due to ice caught between the valve disc and its seat or because the valve disc did not form a watertight seal with the seat.”
Without power, John I drifted easterly, parallel to the coast. By 1130 on March 14, the company had contracted the tug Ryan Leet from Nova Scotia to assist. Ryan Leet was delayed, and investigators said an opportunity was lost to receive assistance from the nearby Canadian Coast Guard vessel Earl Grey, a 229-foot light icebreaker and buoy tender.
“The master of the John I did not accept the initial offers to tow made by the Canadian Coast Guard ship Earl Grey, but instead conferred back and forth with the Canadian Coast Guard and the company about the next course of action to take, thereby delaying the attempt to establish a tow,” the TSB found.
Eventually John I’s captain accepted the tow from Earl Grey, which made one unsuccessful attempt to connect a towline. By this time, the distressed ship’s proximity to the shoal did not allow for completion of a second attempt. Despite deploying anchors, John I ran aground on Rose Blanche Shoals at approximately 1245 on March 15. A search-and-rescue helicopter evacuated the crew.
At approximately 2200 the wind and tide had freed the vessel from the shoals. CCGS George R. Pearkes relieved Earl Grey and remained on the scene.
On March 16, Ryan Leet arrived at 0616, followed the next day by the contractors who had been hired to prepare the vessel for towing. By March 20 at 0820, the tug Atlantic Fir had arrived, and the two tugs began towing the John I toward Argentia, Newfoundland, arriving on March 22 at 1845.
An inspection of the sea chest failure found that “the vertical plate of the valve position indicator located at the grating deck was bowed outward, and its indicator was bent upward and therefore no longer fitted within the slot in the fixed vertical plate,” the TSB report said.
“In this condition, the indicator could turn freely within the valve extended drive shaft and not be moved up or down by the effect of the threads on the shaft, preventing the indication of the position of the valve disc when in operation,” the investigators wrote. “The valve position indicators for the high and low sea chest valves at five other locations were found in various states of disrepair, rendering them unreliable.”
Without a working indicator, the crew had no visual means to confirm that the low sea chest valve was fully closed. The brass and steel collars around the valve stem, which were poorly fitted, separated when the low sea chest valve operating mechanism was overstressed while being tightened.
The TSB determined that flooding occurred when the pressure of the seawater pushed the valve operating mechanism upwards, increasing the rate at which water entered the open seawater strainer housing and flooded the engine room. With the engine room flooding, the master ordered a blackout, and the vessel began drifting.
If a crew is not familiar with the measures necessary to prepare and operate a vessel’s seawater cooling system when navigating in ice, there is a risk that the main engine will overheat, leading to a loss of propulsion, the TSB reported.
“If all authorities responsible for dealing with an emergency are not involved in a timely and coordinated manner,” the investigators added, “there is a risk that response options will be limited and the situation will escalate.”
Neither the owner, John F. Navigation SA of Panama, nor manager, Ceren Denizcilik Sanayi Ltd. of Istanbul, was available to comment on the report.