Recent analysis of the Shipowners Club’s Condition Survey Programme has highlighted that approximately 25% of the vessels surveyed showed evidence of contaminated engine room bilges. As such, Shipowners Club seeks to raise awareness of the potential fire hazards associated with oily engine room bilges and the checks and steps that a ship’s crew and/or surveyor should undertake.
Whilst an oily bilge may not be the immediate source of a fire, any fire that arises in an engine room or machinery space has the potential to escalate and spread rapidly. The presence of oil accumulated in bilges or drip trays act as additional fuel to sustain burning and increase the likelihood of the fire reaching further areas.
With respect to these, the Club notes the following:
- Bilges, especially in the engine room, should be kept clean and free of oil at all times and chemical cleaning should be completed periodically.
- Operators should paint engine room bilges alight colour to assist in visually identifying a fresh leak.
- It is imperative that the source of any oily water in the bilge is fully investigated as oil and water leaking from machinery, pipes and valves within an engine room will seep into the bilges.
- However, a bilge filling up with oil or water could also be a tell-tale sign of a greater problem, such as a leaking propeller shaft, stern seal or cracks in the hull or tank bulkheads.
- PSC officers are increasingly classifying oily bilges as a detainable deficiency, consequently, one of the Club’s vessels that failed to safeguard was recently detained. Operators are recommended to refer to the SMS bulletin for guidance on ship specific procedural systems, also to allow for periodic checks on the engine room bilges and ensure that written procedures regarding oily bilge transfer and discharge operations are established.
As previously reported, over 50% of fires within the engine room are caused by fuel/lubricating oil leakage onto hot surfaces. Oil leaks are often due to the failure of pipes and/or associated fittings. These failures can be attributed to a variety of causes including:
- Mechanical fatigue
- Vibration and pulsations
- Improper securing
- Damage during maintenance operations
- Improper repairs
- Incorrect tightening procedures
- Poor quality materials