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The effectiveness of the maintenance undertaken on board will vary depending on the ship operator’s work practices and available resources, and during periods with limited funds and manpower it may be challenging to keep the maintenance performance at a satisfactory level at all times ...

It is, however, important to prioritise procedures, measures and corrective actions aimed at promoting the reliability of equipment and technical systems which are critical to the operation of the ship. Technical failures may have serious consequences for the safety of the crew, the environment and the ship, but it is also a matter of keeping the vessel trading without time losses caused by such failures or by detention following inspection by port state authorities. Careful maintenance of the ship will go a long way to avoid any unnecessary problems during a PSC inspection.

Although the actual repair cost of a technical failure is not always high, experience shows that the accumulated repair and off-hire costs, and the corresponding owner’s deductibles under the hull and loss of hire policies, tend to become quite extensive when the failures are more frequent. The consequence is increased operating expenses with a direct bottom line effect for the involved parties. Gard has seen a number of incidents where the root cause of the incident has been found to be improper routine maintenance over time, and in this regard it is necessary to remind Members and clients that loss or damage caused by inadequate maintenance may prejudice the insurance cover. Apart from possible insurance implications, vessels experiencing frequent failures may have a negative impact on the owner’s commercial relationships and it may be difficult to keep the vessel fully utilised.

The purpose of this circular is therefore to remind ship operators that a properly planned and effective maintenance regime, even in tough economic times, will be a good investment.

Contributing factors
A common factor in many of the cases reported to Gard is that the manufacturer’s specific recommendations concerning maintenance intervals have not been followed, inasmuch as maintenance work has been postponed or has been performed incorrectly. In difficult economic times we see that maintenance is in some cases kept to a minimum and focussing primarily on compliance with class and flag state requirements. Maintenance is often postponed to a dry-docking period and the work during dry-docking is reduced to the absolute minimum due to budget restrictions. The combination of postponed and reduced maintenance may lead to a situation where both critical and less critical maintenance is carried out during the yard stay without proper prioritising. We have also seen examples of non-original parts of sub-standard quality or reconditioned spare parts which ought to have been scrapped have been used or reused to maintain critical equipment. In a number of such cases the maintenance records have also been inadequate.

Lack of experience with the vessel’s type of machinery and equipment is often a contributing factor to incidents, as well as improper actions by the ship’s senior officers and lack of involvement by shore management. If the senior officers are replaced frequently we see a tendency to accept the non-delivery of ordered spares and services, as they do not expect to re-join the same vessel/manager, and they do not challenge the manager when spares and services are not delivered as requested. A high degree of involvement by the shore management is of course always important in maintaining a high standard of maintenance on board, especially if the retention rate of senior officers is low.

Gard’s experience
In a recent Gard case the main engine had to be operated in manual mode since major parts for the automation control system had been out of service for a long time. In addition, none of the high pressure fuel pumps and governors were working properly and were in need of maintenance. Overhaul intervals for the high pressure fuel pumps were not in accordance with the manufacturer’s recommendations and the maintenance of all pumps were found to be overdue. This resulted in a breakdown of the bearings and damage to the crankshaft. The incident could have been prevented if the recommended maintenance had been performed. In addition, the maintenance records found on board were inadequate. The repair costs were estimated to be between USD 300,000 and USD 500,000. 

In another recent case two of a vessel’s three auxiliary engines suffered catastrophic failures with only a few days in between. As a consequence both engines were in need of new engine blocks and crank shafts. The failures were related to a lack of or incorrectly performed maintenance and that the vessel had no consumables and spare parts on board. The vessel was taken off-hire for more than three weeks to complete the replacement of the engine blocks and the rebuilding of the engines. The total repair cost for both engines was approximately EUR 650,000.

In yet another case the continued use of worn parts over time and a noticeable exchange of parts with less worn ones became apparent. Several liners and piston crowns appear to have been used when already outside the manufacturer’s maximum acceptable limits and acceptance criteria.

Finally, a case was reported where the engine had been running for several weeks without purification of the lube oil system due to inoperative purifier and filter systems. In addition, the lube oil pump was worn out which again led to insufficient lubrication of the engine and further breakdown of the bearings and damage to the crankshaft. It was concluded that the crankshaft was beyond repair and had to be renewed, along with the crank and main bearings. Further investigations revealed that the breakdown was caused by polluted lube oil due to a non-operative purification plant.

All the four cases mentioned above are examples of high damage repair costs which may be related to poor maintenance planning, incorrectly performed maintenance and/or a lack of available appropriate spares on board. The procedures for risk assessment contained in the Safety Management System (SMS) which identifies equipment and technical systems critical to the operation, or which could create hazardous situations in case of failure, are usually in place and have been audited. In other words – all in good order on paper. However, if limited resources and budgetary restrictions cause lack of actual implementation of the procedures incidents causing loss and damage are likely to occur.    

To optimise maintenance efforts on board and to minimise the risk of failure leading to possible periods off-hire and thus loss of income, shipowners and operators should review their existing risk assessment procedures and the risks identified in the SMS. Measures and corrective actions that are aimed at promoting the reliability of such equipment or systems including monitoring, inspections and record keeping should be given priority. 

To optimise the maintenance effort the company should ensure that;

  • The risk assessment procedures to identify equipment and technical systems critical to the operation, or which could create hazardous situations in case of failure, are regularly reviewed.
  • Proper maintenance planning is carried out based on the risks identified. Scope and intervals of maintenance should be scheduled and performed in accordance with the manufacturers’ recommendations. Resources should be prioritised for equipment and technical systems that carry the most risk if they fail.
  • Monitoring and inspections should be performed at appropriate intervals to provide important input to the maintenance planning.
  • Any non-conformity should be reported to the shore management, with its possible cause, if known, and appropriate corrective actions should be prioritised and carried out. The reporting regime should be operative and used according to existing procedures.
  • Detailed records should always to be stored in the vessel’s maintenance system.

To ensure that proper maintenance is conducted, the requirements set forth in the IMO ISM Code Chapter 10 should be followed.