TSB endorses requirement that maintenance records be kept permanently aboard vessels

Sichem Aneline ran aground in the St. Lawrence River near Montreal. The TSB said the casualty was caused by the loss of steering as a result of an electrical anomaly. (Courtesy Transportation Safety Board of Canada)

The 2007 grounding of a chemical tanker in the St. Lawrence River due to a steering-circuitry problem has prompted Canadian officials to urge new rules requiring maintenance-history records to remain with a vessel forever.

On April 11, 2007, the 378-foot Sichem Aneline ran aground near the Pointe-aux-Trembles anchorage, just downstream from Montreal. The outbound Marshall Islands-flagged tanker had just departed the Port of Montreal loaded with benzene.

While the vessel was underway at 11.5 knots, the helm failed to respond and the rudder indicator stopped at between 5° and 10° to starboard, according to a report by the Transportation Safety Board (TSB) of Canada. No warning alarms sounded. The ship experienced a starboard sheer and exited the channel, passing astern of an anchored vessel. The crew switched to non-follow-up control — an auxiliary system that should return the rudder to zero state — and dropped anchor, but Sichem Aneline ran aground and began listing 6° or 7° to starboard.

Four days later, tugboat company Le Groupe Ocean pulled the vessel free. There was no hull damage or leakage.

In its report issued in April 2009, the TSB attributed the accident to “an electrical anomaly in the steering gear control system circuitry” that was probably “somewhere between and including the steering control stand and the power unit starter boxes in the steering flat.”

Eight days before the grounding, Sichem Aneline experienced a momentary and uneventful steering malfunction, also with no alarms sounding. In response, the crew disassembled the No. 1 pilot valve and replaced dried, cracked and broken O-rings, and the steering operated normally.

Sichem Aneline was built in 1998, and its management changed four times since it entered service. EMS Ship Management of India had taken over as manager three months before the grounding, and many of the ship’s officers were on their first voyage with the vessel. The owner was Daiichi Chuo Kisen of Japan.

After the grounding, TSB investigators inspecting the Fluidmecanica S.A. steering gear found oil leaking from all eight counterbalancing valves; missing, damaged, dried and cracked O-rings; suspected pieces of broken O-rings in the oil filter; an unloader valve that wasn’t working, and recently welded support bars in the way of main output hoses, which were the wrong length.

The International Association of Classification Societies Ltd. unified requirement warns against installing hoses that need to be twisted to fit.

“In this instance, no notes or conditions of class were issued to record the fact that the hydraulic hoses fitted to the No. 1 power unit were longer than necessary and not fitted within the confines of the conduit for which they were designed,” the TSB report said. “To help withstand the lateral forces acting on the hose under operational conditions, the hoses were clamped to a stabilizing bar fabricated by crewmembers.”

The TSB determined that Sichem Aneline’s crew lacked access to the ship’s previous maintenance and failure history. The absence of such information increased the risk of machinery failure.

“Few maintenance records aboard the Sichem Aneline predated January 2007 when the new management company took control of the ship. The absence of historical maintenance records inhibited engineers from being able to anticipate and prevent problems likely to occur with critical operational equipment such as steering gear,” the TSB wrote.

“Although some older records for steering gear maintenance were found on the chief engineer’s computer, they lacked detail and did not predate October 2005,” the report said. “The seven years of records that existed since the time of construction were not easily available even though they were important for analyzing system performance.”

Annette Malm Justad, chief executive of EMS Ship Management parent Eitzen Maritime Services ASA of Haslum, Norway, said Sichem Aneline’s documentation from the classification society mentioned no safety concerns about steering equipment.

“Many of the key features of the TSB report relate to the use of historical records and the ability of engineering staff to use these to anticipate problems — all of which we fully accept,” Justad said in a written statement to Professional Mariner.

“As a general rule we always request all previous records and engineering/casualty history when we take over a vessel. This is not always forthcoming however,” she said. “It should be remembered that as managers, we rely on the class records of the vessel to provide all necessary information regarding major breakdowns or modifications to any of the machinery items on board. There were no reports to raise any alarms on the steering gear of the Aneline in the vessel’s class records.”

The Sichem Aneline grounding is the second TSB investigation in which a lack of continuity of maintenance-history records was cited as a safety hazard. In 2000, the bulk carrier Millenium Yama suffered a major engine casualty in the St. Lawrence due to a failed connecting rod. That ship had changed management five times, and the latest operators didn’t possess a replacement-parts history for the vessel.

The TSB believes the worldwide maritime industry should begin keeping such documentation on ships even when they change management. Therefore, the report urges Transport Canada to “advocate at the International Maritime Organization (IMO) effective measures to ensure that maintenance and failure records remain on board throughout a vessel’s life.”

A similar request was raised with the IMO in 2004 by the United Kingdom following a 2002 life boat accident. All of that vessel’s records had been removed. The UK officials noted that the aeronautical industry’s standard practice is to keep maintenance and failure records with each aircraft when there are ownership changes. The IMO hasn’t acted on the matter.

The TSB report noted that certain “buyer beware” traditions in the maritime industry aren’t conducive to the sharing of past information about a vessel.

“The business environment regarding domestic and international vessel ownership transfers does not encourage the disclosure or transfer of maintenance records,” the report said. “For example, the standard contract of sale in the maritime industry is the Norwegian Sales Form (NSF). The NSF allows for an ‘as is, where is’ buyer’s inspection that offers no warranty or assurance of either the vessel’s current condition or its past maintenance.”

A ship’s new classification society, which receives previous survey status reports, doesn’t necessarily have access to all past maintenance records.

“Most aspects of the continuous maintenance undertaken by the crew on safety-critical components, such as steering gear, are not included in these records,” the TSB said. •

Dom Yanchunas

By Professional Mariner Staff