The Accident and the Aftermath
This was too much for the crane, and the long-travel crane brake control failed. The crane took off aft down the engine room, trailing our electrician and the cylinder head along behind it. But worse was to come: as the crane was careening aft, the cylinder head collided with numerous injector cooling water pipes, leaving several damaged copper pipes in its wake.
I ran after the electrician and the both of us managed to take a few turns of the crane’s operating chains round the handrails, whilst the greasers roped the errant cylinder head and tied this to the rails as well.
I went off to sort out the cooling water pipes and by the time I had straightened the bent pipes and made new ones, the engine repairs had been completed so we connected up the injector cooling system, refilled it, and then ran the pump.
Leaving the watch keepers to restart the engine, the Second and I climbed up to the crane maintenance platform (see sketch of engine room layout below) to inspect the crane control brake system.
The brakes consisted of a round disc welded onto the drive shaft, and a sliding, keyed brake pad mechanism which held the pad against the disc, effectively locking the drive shaft. We had a look at the cross travel brake pad lining and these were good, but on stripping back the long travel brake mechanism, we found these pad linings to be nearly worn down to the rivets. Nevertheless, there was a little adjustment possible so we did this, and our faithful electrician ran the crane down the rails. He locked the brakes then tested them by swinging his 18 stone on the long travel chains, but the crane didn’t budge.
The electrician and I were in the Second’s cabin having a cold beer with him and discussing the incident with the Chief. He remembered the crane having an overhaul by the makers during the last dry-dock, nearly a year ago.
He had brought the crane workshop manual with him, and it recommended checking and adjusting the brakes regularly, depending on how often the crane was used. Well, with our engine's track record of blowing cylinder head gaskets, he reckoned we should check the crane brakes every two months. He went off to fax head office to order off two sets of spare brake pads, and one complete brake operating mechanism.
Now we knew what caused the brakes to fail, and had taken the actions to ensure it wouldn’t happen again, so what had I learned from that?
Well, in a ship’s engine room, it is not only necessary to maintain the engines and pumps, but also the support equipment we use to carry out the repairs. A ship’s crane load brakes failure caused an accident in our engine room, and it could have been much worse. Besides more property damage, somebody could have been badly hurt or killed.