Story adapted from actual incident in 1995 (Non-NYK Vessel)

The Very Large Gas Carrier (VLGC), laden with 75,000 cu.m. of liquefied petroleum gas from the Arabian Gulf, plowed northeastward through the South China Sea at maximum speed. It seemed that the 20 years old Japanese built vessel was in a hurry to reach her motherland.

The captain, experienced in his present rank for almost the same number of years as the age of the vessel under his command, paced the bridge contentedly. Repeatedly, his practiced eyes flicked at various control consoles and indicators and then swept the sea and the horizon. Life was “as good as it gets” for him. The frequently angry South China Sea was exceptionally calm, there were no ships in the vicinity, the reliquefaction plant and the engine room machinery hummed smoothly and a day before he had successfully made another safe passage through the precarious traffic of the Malacca/Singapore straits. Yes, life was good! His bearded face crinkled into a rare smile at the third mate on watch – startling the young officer.

Suddenly, there was a tremendous jolt. The ship shuddered like a wet dog throwing off water and continued to vibrate violently! Various audio-visual alarms on the bridge console triggered on! The third mate picked up the telephone to the engine room. Before he could dial the number, he saw the engine telegraph move to “STOP” and the propeller RPM indicator dropping towards zero. The engine had stopped and so had the vibrations.

The captain sounded the general alarm to muster the crew to their stations and then contacted the engine control room on the telephone. The chief engineer answered. He was quite shaken. He had been testing a sample of the Auxiliary Engine blended fuel oil in the engine control room when he was flung out of his chair. Years of experience had pre-determined his first reaction - which was to stop the main engine.

The master and chief engineer were both completely puzzled by the violent vibrations. Had the vessel grounded or hit a submarine? Had a main engine piston or bearing seized? Had a whale come in the way of the propeller? Had a floating mine, leftover from the Vietnam War, hit the vessel?

Routine inspections were commenced. The deck officers and crew sounded the double bottoms and cargo tank void spaces and inspected the vessel’s sides. The engineers turned the main engine on turning gear, checked the steering gear and made preparations for checking the engine crankcase.

Filled with apprehension, the captain telephoned the vessel manager who was as amazed as the captain. In addition to the checks already started by the vessel, the vessel manager advised the master to have main engine crankshaft deflections measured and stern tube bearing oil checked for white metal particles.

The inspections revealed nothing abnormal and the captain passed on this information to the vessel manager. Well, there was nothing else to do but start the engine and then to see what happens. The engine was started and the shuddering commenced at around 80 RPM. The engine was stopped and the captain telephoned the vessel manager again.

Captain (C): Can’t run the engine. There is too much vibration.
Vessel Manager (VM): I think something has fouled your propeller.
C: Possible.
VM: Would anyone volunteer to dive and check the propeller?
C: Maybe sharks around.
VM: I know but has to be done.
C: I’ll check if there are any brave volunteers.

A few minutes later:
C: The chief officer will dive. He’s not married.
VM: Suggest you lower the lifeboat, tie a lifeline and instruct all crew to look out for sharks.
C: OK.

An hour later:
C: The chief officer has checked the propeller and says it is OK.
VM: Did he go right down till the propeller?
C: Says he could see it clearly from 6 meters. The water is quite clear.
VM: Anyone else willing to dive to check one more time?
C: OK, I’ll go. Take care of my family if I don’t come up. Hope the P & I club covers this sort of thing.

An hour later:
C: I went right down. One blade has sheared at the root and fallen off. All other blades look all right.
VM: OK. Good job. Will have to change the propeller. Maybe the stern tube bearing too.
Things like propellers have a delivery time of 3 months. You will have to proceed at slow speed to keep the vibrations at an acceptable level. Keep the engine room manned and maintain a constant watch on the stern tube bearing temperature. I’ll inform the underwriters, class and owners.

The news caused total consternation at the owners’ office – followed by a flood of congratulatory telephone calls to the vessel manager and the master of the vessel. Various staff at the owners’ office agreed that the no other manager and crew would probably never have taken such initiative.

The vessel proceeded safely to Japan, discharged her cargo and was laid up at Innoshima for 3 months awaiting a new propeller. The time was used by owners and managers to carry out extensive steel renewals in the ballast tanks.

The vessel’s life was prolonged by another 10 years and, fitted with a spanking new propeller and stern tube bearing, she once again commenced carrying much-needed LPG to Japan!

(Submitted by Hemant Pathania, VM of the vessel in 1995)

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