Bulk carrier adrift after power shutdown

Lookout! Issue 27, December 2012

A bulk carrier heading into a busy commercial port suddenly lost power and steerage in the main shipping lane, when a crewman adjusted the wrong valve.

The incident occurred as the ship approached the harbour entrance, when the watchkeeping engineer noticed the main generator fuel temperature was too low. He instructed the oiler to adjust the steam valve, in order to boost the temperature of the fuel to the generators. However, rather than opening the steam valve, the oiler mistakenly shut the fuel oil supply valve, which shut the generators down.

The fuel oil heater supply valve (centre) was mistakenly shut down.
Maritime New Zealand ©2020

The pilot had just boarded the ship and was travelling at about 10 knots when it blacked out, losing propulsion and steerage. The emergency generator immediately kicked in, and anchors were made ready and a request sent for tug assistance.

Within about five minutes, the steering was able to be restored. Full power was returned within 10 minutes, and the main engine was restarted without the ship drifting from its course. The carrier continued to its berth without further incident.


  • The simple act of adjusting the wrong valve shut the vessel down and potentially put people’s lives at risk. As it was entering a busy port when the blackout occurred, there could have been serious repercussions for other vessels, as well as the bulk carrier.
  • The ship’s crew completed all necessary emergency procedures for blackout and, after berthing, the chief engineer reviewed the incident with the engine room personnel. To prevent any future occurrences, he educated all engine room personnel about the generator fuel systems.
  • The ship’s operating procedures were also modified and updated to reduce the risk of any repeat incident. An engineer officer is now required to open the steam valve and perform similar operations, rather than these tasks being delegated to the oiler.

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