News 12 Jan, 2007

USA: Safety Alert – Machinery Breakdowns in the Mississippi River

Earlier this month the US Coast Guard in New Orleans reported a significant rise in the number of casualties in the Mississippi River during 2006, over one hundred of which were the result of main engine or generator failures.

In the attached USCG Newsletter the New Orleans Captain of the Port reminds vessels that the lower Mississippi River south of Baton Rouge is a “Regulated Navigation Area” and subject to 33 CFR 164 regulations governing safe navigation.

Members are asked to take note of this rise in casualties and to ensure that the safe navigation requirements of 33 CFR 164 are fulfilled.

Marine Casualties

In the past months, Sector New Orleans has seen a rise in vessels experiencing marine casualties while transiting in the Mississippi River. For the most part, these casualties were the result of main engine or auxiliary engine failures. To date in 2006, there have been over 100 propulsion losses or power irregularities.

For clarification, a propulsion loss is when the main engine shuts down or fails to start. It could also be the result of the vessel losing electrical power causing the main engine to lose the essential auxiliaries, i.e. lube oil, cooling water or fuel oil pumps. A power irregularity is when the main engine suddenly loses revolutions, fails to achieve requested revolutions, or goes into an automatic slow down because of an alarm.

Analysis of these failures showed that fifty percent were due to malfunctioning main engine air systems including both the start air and control air sub-systems. The other fifty percent were the result of malfunctioning main and auxiliary engine cooling water systems, fuel systems, engine control systems and operator error with regards to system alignment. In several instances, these failures led to a secondary casualty, i.e. collision and/or grounding.

Based on the above, the Captain of the Port (COTP) New Orleans is requesting that all vessel masters ensure that their vessel’s propulsion plants are in proper operating order prior to transiting in the Mississippi River.

As a reminder 33 CFR 165.810 designates the Mississippi River below mile 233.9 above Head of Passes including South Pass and Southwest Pass as a Regulated Navigation Area (RNA). The section prescribes rules for all vessels operating in the RNA to assist in the prevention of allisions, collisions and groundings to ensure port safety and protect the navigable waters of the Mississippi River from environmental harm resulting from those incidents, and to enhance the safety of vessels moored or anchored in the River.

Of note, each self-propelled vessel of 1,600 or more gross tons subject to 33 CFR 164 shall also:

  • While under way in the RNA, have an engineering watch capable of monitoring the propulsion system, communicating with the bridge, and implementing manual-control measures immediately when necessary. The watch must be physically present in the machinery spaces or in the machinery control spaces and must consist of at least a licensed engineer.
  • Before embarking a pilot when entering or getting under way in the RNA, the master shall ensure that the vessel complies with 33 CFR 164 to include the tests required before entering or getting underway in United States waters.
  • Ensure that the chief engineer has certified that the following additional operating conditions will be satisfied so long as the vessel is under way within the RNA:
    • The main propulsion plant is in all respects ready for operations including the main propulsion air-start systems, fuel systems, lubricating systems, cooling systems, and automation systems;
    • Cooling, lubricating, and fuel-oil systems are at proper operating temperatures;
    • Main propulsion machinery is available to immediately respond to the full range of manoeuvring commands any load-limiting programs or automatic acceleration-limiting programs that would limit the speed of response to engine orders beyond that needed to prevent immediate damage to the propulsion machinery are capable of being overridden immediately;
    • Main-propulsion standby systems are ready to be immediately placed in service.