A lubricating oil leak prevented the crew of an LNG vessel from using the windlass. Instead of having the problem fixed, the ship set sail as the spare part needed was not available. The Nautical Institute disapproves of the choices made in its latest Mars Report.

The Nautical Institute gathers reports of maritime accidents and near-misses. It then publishes these so-called Mars Reports (anonymously) to prevent other accidents from happening. A summary of this incident:

An LNG vessel had completed loading and preparations for departure were underway. With the pilot now on board, the forward winch was started prior to singling up. Soon after, the fire detection system indicated smoke in the bosun store.

The unmooring operation was suspended and the officer forward reported seeing smoke coming from the bosun store. The mooring winches were stopped using the remote external shut off button and the smoke decreased. Once it was deemed safe to enter, crew saw that a loose screw had caused lubricating oil to leak, generating smoke when it struck the hot motor.

The ship left the dock without the deficiency corrected because the necessary spare part was not quickly available – possibly not even on board. In order to prevent the smoke, it was decided not to use the mooring winches forward, so lines were handled manually. This was accomplished fairly well, but it was a big challenge for the crew to manually heave in the tug escort line forward. The vessel’s windlass was also affected by the decision to not use the forward mooring hydraulics, so the anchors could only be cast by gravity.

Also read: Safety culture on board ships: If safety is concerned, express your concerns

Disagreement with the master

In this case, the reporting person mentioned that he disagreed with the master about leaving the berth without having the deficiency corrected, but had to acquiesce as compromise was not possible.

He was also critical of the company’s response and confided that many senior officers were often searching for someone to blame instead of discovering the contributing factors of an incident. Another complicating factor was that the ship was quite new and still under builder’s guarantee, so deficiencies were supposed to be taken care of by the builder.

Also read: ‘Material Safety Data Sheet: Read it and apply it to protect yourself’

Advice from The Nautical Institute

  • If your windlass has been sidelined due to hydraulic problems it may be a good idea to stay at berth until it can be properly repaired.
  • When in doubt about how to proceed when equipment fails, consult your classification society.
  • Searching for someone to blame is a red flag for a weak safety culture. Accidents and incidents are caused by unsafe conditions. Period. Even complacency, which has been cited as a contributing factor to some accidents, is not in and of itself a true underlying cause. Complacency does not suddenly appear, it grows and multiplies under tacit approval of leadership. Why was this complacency not detected and corrected? The unsafe condition could more correctly be stated as weak safety leadership, less than adequate auditing, or procedural slip to name but three.

Mars Reports

This accident was covered in the Mars Reports, originally published as Mars 202304, that are part of Report Number 363. A selection of this Mars Report was also published in SWZ|Maritime’s February 2023 issue. The Nautical Institute compiles these reports to help prevent maritime accidents. That is why they are also published (in full) on SWZ|Maritime’s website.

More reports are needed to keep the scheme interesting and informative. All reports are read only by the Mars coordinator and are treated in the strictest confidence. To submit a report, please use the Mars report form.

Also read: Weak safety culture and alcohol contribute to crew member death