Captain’s Corner: Vessel Maintenance

U.S. Coast Guard photo of CAPT Tom Allan taken by Petty Officer 2nd Class Timothy TamargoThis Captain’s Corner is brought to you by LT John Nee, our Senior Investigating Officer (SIO). John brings a wealth of information and experience to the job. He enlisted in the Coast Guard in 1992, filling jobs at boat stations, aboard cutters and at shore maintenance depots. As an officer, he honed his skills as a maritime professional in Hampton Roads, VA, and Lake Charles, LA, before joining the staff at Sector Jacksonville. John and his team’s work in the Investigations Branch is vital to helping us review and analyze maritime incidents, determine causal factors causes, and prevent similar casualties through safety alerts and recommendations designed to enhance our marine safety program. His article gives some insight into their work, and how important the little things matter for those who work on the water.

As always, if you have recommendations for future topics, we would appreciate your input. See you in the port!
– CAPT Tom Allan

Vessel Maintenance: When cost savings cost more

By LT John Nee, USCG Senior Investigating Officer (SIO)

As any mariner knows, the ocean is a harsh environment and takes its toll on a vessel. Maintenance on board a vessel, whether it is a personal watercraft or a supertanker, is something that is a requirement if you want to keep your vessel in peak operating condition. Like so many other key decisions, there are two resources that weigh the heaviest during the planning and execution of maintenance: time and cost. There are risks and benefits that need to be weighed to accurately determine the best course of action when planning, executing and deferring maintenance. Unfortunately, the hidden risk of deferred or improper maintenance is waiting for the right opportunity to make its presence felt.

There are also hidden risks associated with modifications to manufacturer’s specifications, and often times modifications are the result of cost cutting measures. When equipment is designed and tested, the manufacturer understands the dynamic loads and stressors that their equipment is placed under. Therefore replacing or repairing equipment should always be conducted in accordance with the manufacturer’s standards. Recently, the Sector investigated a main engine room fire on board a commercial vessel that was caused by an improper maintenance decision. A technician installed an unreinforced rubber hose in lieu of a brass pipe to make a coupling between engine components. The pressure of this fuel line exceeds 140 pounds per square inch at full throttle; therefore, the design engineers used more expensive brass piping instead of rubber hose to adequately handle the fuel pressure. Although the rubber hose worked for a few years, it eventually failed due to deterioration, vibration and fatigue. As a result of the discovery of the unapproved rubber hose fuel line that led to the engine room fire during the marine casualty investigation, Sector Jacksonville shared this information with the Coast Guard’s Office of Investigations and Analysis in order to publish a safety alert. This alert was subsequently shared Coast Guard-wide with all inspection offices so that vessel operators and Coast Guard marine inspectors were aware of the risks and hazards. View the safety alert here.

Seemingly minor modifications can lead to disastrous results. Always follow the manufacturer’s recommended maintenance schedule, utilize direct replacement of parts, and ensure technicians have the latest information promulgated by the manufacturer that reflects updated parts information.