Fires and Failures

NL 46

Chief Engineer Mahendra Singh

Fires and Failures

By Mahendra Singh
Chief Engineer

Lessons learned on fires and failures in the Engine Room

If you notice carefully, it will be found that from the change room we proceed downwards to the engine room and rarely go up unless there occurs some problem, such as failure of some joint on a valve or pipe, fire due to soot accumulation, or failure of some tubes. I also did the same, until I learnt some lessons on exhaust boilers, engine room blower panel, and incinerator uptake, etc.

On one ship, we were washing the economizer from one door only, because on the opposite side there was very little space to pass between the boiler and the bulkhead. Some engineers who were longer on the vessel proclaimed that there is no door on that side. Their belief was strengthened by the fact that this side of the
boiler was almost totally black. With little persuasion, we grudgingly entered this alley with brush, scraper and hand lamp and after some scraping we discovered the door. Upon opening this door we found this side totally blocked by soot, rather hardened soot.

These days we are not studying any drawings

These days we are not studying any drawings. If you open the black boxes we will find the drawings neatly folded with an ammonia smell still present. We do not read the drawings. We do not even read the manual, forget the drawings.

Let a study be made and we will find that almost all air vents provided on the headers are jammed because these are never operated. Failures occur because we do not check these important places and simply feel happy that the feed pump is running. Even if one feed pump gives problems, we start the other one and come back to the engine control room without going up to confirm water in the tubes. If you make a study today, we will find the cocks of gauge glasses
jammed because we never blow through the gauge glasses and check the water levels only from the remote glass in the ECR.

No time to do proper maintenance cause for fires and failures

We do not move our legs and do not like to bend. Most of us cannot sit for long on our legs in the squatting position without feeling pain. Friends, no criticism is meant, we are all seafarers and whatever is being said is in good faith. Most of you are very good. Every one knows that these days we hardly get any time to do thorough maintenance.

On one ship we wanted to plug some tubes of the economizer and we were not able to find the lower line of plugs, as if they were not there, till we bent enough to find that these were located below an arthwartship angle iron long piece at the edges of the gratings. It was quite a job to open these plugs because they never had been opened.

For the structural strength of the headers, all their fittings must form
part of the boiler survey at least once in five years, in spite of the
time constraint.

Feed pumps do come under CSM survey, but what about the stub pipe piece between the hotwell and the pump (through the valve). Have you ever seen a surveyor checking the hotwell structure, especially it’s bottom. In one case a big hole developed in this bottom plate but God was with us, the distance between the bottom plate and the deck head below was very small with adequate coaming
around and we filled up this area totally with 3 parts of sand and one part cement mixture.

The smoke sides of the boiler must be cleaned very diligently in a periodical manner (say once in three months) supervised by the chief engineer himself. On older ships, the economizer tubes have clamps and such clamps must be checked very thoroughly by going  inside and spending some time there because, if they keep rubbing against the tubes, we will surely have a leak and it is rather difficult to locate such leaks.

The Junior Engineer

Many junior engineers argue that we have soot blowers so why open and clean them. Such persons will learn later with experience that soot blowing is not enough.

In case of fire in the tubes, stop the engine, cover the turbocharger filter fully and shut off the blower supplying air to this filter. This will stop the air draft. After some time the fire will go away. We can introduce CO2/DCP inside through ingenious means. Do not use soot blowers. Circulation of water should be maintained as far as practicable. Water may be used inside the casing in a well directed manner for effecting cooling if practicable. But waiting and watching for some time is preferred.

The same thing happens with under piston scavenge fire. Reduce RPM suitably, cut off fuel to effected unit and wait for 15 minutes. In most of the cases the fire will finish. In one case, the burning material was burning close to the under piston scavenge door and one inspection glass got overheated and a hole was created in it. Wearing asbestos gloves and taking cover, I had introduced foam through the portable extinguisher via this hole. But, in both cases, periodic, thorough cleaning and imaginative checking by the Chief and the Second Engineer together is the best solution.

A note of caution needed

A note of caution is needed here, do not wash the economizer if a long pilotage is to follow because sparks keep on coming for a long time and pilots get worried and may even complain. Also, beware of rapid steam generation after full away is given.

Generally the Chief leaves at this point to give figures to the Captain and the watch in charge makes a cup of coffee, relieved of maneuvering, till he suddenly finds hotwell overflowing and safety valve lifting. Then, there occurs big commotion. The boiler tube plugs are supplied with the new ship and kept in the spares box but with time they vanish and when the time comes to use them, we
lose time in improvising. It will not be out of place to say here that a junior engineer (Fifth Engineer or TME) is very useful and all of us must demand that one such young person be provided on all ships. I must confess that in my long sea service, these boys helped me immensely.

While inspecting the boiler structure, the flue tube (cylindrical structure between the furnace and the tube plate) must be ultrasonically gauged. In some makes of the boilers, there is water space below the furnace bottom plate and there is some shoring structure. This bottom plate must also be cleaned and the thickness
gauged. Failures have happened at both these places, especially the former.

These days a lot of good video CD’s are available

These days a lot of good video CD’s are available and we must see them and discuss in safety meetings or in rough weather when we can not go out for drills. Again, no time is available and yet we must find time. Check and recheck please. Careful checking and checking together always helps, though it is rather difficult to achieve. We are seamen and we love to do difficult jobs!


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