At the end of a long river pilotage, the ship was about a mile from the berth and proceeding at slow ahead whilst awaiting tugs. The pilot ordered ‘half astern’, but the engine failed to kick astern. After waiting a few seconds, the telegraph was moved to ‘stop’. The air pressure in the starting air cylinders decreased to 12bar. After waiting a few seconds, a further attempt was made, but again the engine failed to start. The pressure in the starting air cylinders dropped to 7bar. Attempts to contact the engine control room were unsuccessful, as nobody answered the telephone. After a further short period, the pressure in the air start cylinders was seen to increase to 22bar. The telegraph was moved to ‘half astern’ and the main engine responded and started to run astern. After this, there were no further issues.
The subsequent onboard investigation revealed that the new Chief engineer had closed the valve between the two start air cylinders. He, however, did not inform anyone about his actions. His intention was to have one start air cylinder full and ready for use in emergency.
A C/E can run the E/R in whatever configuration he believes to be the best and safest but adhering to statutory and SMS requirements. However, when changing an existing arrangement, it is the C/E’s responsibility to inform all members of the E/R team of the change. Sadly, on this occasion, that did not happen. Avoid isolation of engine room starting air receivers as this can minimise the ‘consecutive’ starts of the ME which is required by the IACS rules.
Another worrying aspect was that the engine control room was left unattended during manoeuvring / pilotage operations. At least one person must remain in the engine control room during pilotage to answer the telephone. The E/R staff must remain in close contact with the bridge team when maneuvering or during pilotage.