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Wednesday, 18 January 2012

The Day Has Come

This was written as I was leaving Greta C...

Well it's time to leave Greta C now after only seven days on board.  I now have enough sea time accrued to apply for a date when I can take my Marine Engineer Licence, or 'ticket' as it's widely known.  At some point in my final training at the academy I will send in my 'Notice of Elegibility' or 'N.O.E' and then a date will be booked for the oral exam.  

My cabin on greta

The seven days on board Greta C started off mildly and ended up pretty full on, with a thirteen and a half hour day for the penultimate day due to some reasonably major main engine work (unexpected).  

As I mentioned before, my first impressions of the ship (compared to the Chinese ones I had been on previously) were that it appeared better built, but more clinical and less beauty there.  The ER (Engine Room) was split into many different mezzanine type levels and it looked pretty old fashioned compared to Nomadic Milde.  Nomadic Milde's ER layout was great as there was quite a bit of open space between machinery and it all looked great - Greta C's layout was probably appropriate for someone less than five foot tall (so easy to whack your head in so many parts) and it all seemed rather more shoehorned in.  Despite the ship being a 2009 build the Japanese equipment looks a bit old fashioned, and in terms of control equipment in the ECR (engine control room) it seemed fairly antiquated.  Nomadic Milde's control systems are a lot more sophisticated and modern.  However, while I was on board we did have very few alarms go off, and I think that this was partly down to the general build quality of all the Jap equipment being superior, and also testament to the good standard of Engineering provided by the Russian Chief Engineer and Lithuanian Second Engineer.  

The first couple of days on board were spent doing familiarisation and some work with the electrician on board sorting out a problem with the automatic back flushing on the fuel booster unit filters.  We had Port State Control on board on the Sunday and they got us to demonstrate various machinery worked properly.  They were satisfied with what they saw and we didn't get any deficiencies listed, which was good.  

On Monday 9th Jan we manoeuvred out of Hamburg headed for Antwerp.  This was fairly long, from 6pm until 2am.   We were told the manoeuvring into Antwerp would be longer, around 8 hours - a long time to be on standby in the Engine room for, considering it was likely that it would fall outside normal UMS (unmanned system) work hours.  The passage to Antwerp was around thirty hours, and on Tuesday we were just doing various engine room maintenance tasks - we also did a performance test on the main engine which involves measuring all the peak cylinder pressures and injection timing etc.  On the Carisbrooke ships they have a great system called 'Dr Diesel' which takes the readings.  You plug it into a sensor pickup box and then attach the pressure probe onto each cylinder in turn and take readings.  You then download the information onto the computer program and enter the other engine parameters at the time (pressures, temperatures, fuel pump rack positions etc).  It then produces a graph where you can look at how each cylinder's pressures and injection pressures and timings compare against each other i.e. how good the balance is.  Looking at this graph you can see whether there are any problems, and what the problems are potentially.  This also enables you to work out the indicated power of the engine.  It's a modern version of what they used to have to work out indicated power, and is brilliant (in my opinion).  The data is recorded each month and sent to the Superintendent and another technical person.  They view it and give feedback to the Chief Engineer mentioning any potential problems they see and or checks/adjustments that could be made.

Tuesday night manoeuvring started around midnight and didn't finish until around 0830 on Wednesday, with us arriving in Antwerp.  Wednesday was far from restful with the generator engines' lubricating oil purifier needing stripping down due to a problem. This was one of many things going on, as we had two surveyors from our Classification Society on board ('class' as they are referred to.  A classification society is basically an organisation that initiates and maintains the technical standards for the ship from the initial build and throughout its life - each ship has a classification society it is party to, and cannot be insured without being 'in class'.  'In class' means it is following and maintaining the classification society's rules; if a ship is not, then it is considered to be 'out of class' = bad news, as it will then be uninsured).  They were keeping us on our toes, and we had to demonstrate a comprehensive range of equipment was in satisfactory condition; this included demonstrating various trips designed to stop machinery when running out of safe parameters.  We had to open up equipment like the exhaust gas fired heater for the thermal oil system, so he could inspect  the condition of the tubes where the heat exchange takes place.   We had to strip down machines such as the Oily Water Separator (very messy job) so he could inspect the interior.  

 The ECR - Chief Engineer in white, 2/E in Orange

The Main Engine

The Filipino oiler, Reinie

 One of the three auxiliary generators

2/E and I
 Inside the oily water separator

Remind anyone of atheroma?

Oily water separator inside after cleaning 

The inspections continued on Thursday and during a Main Engine scavenge space inspection it was found that three piston rings on cylinder three were broken, and one on cylinder two.  With three piston rings broken on cylinder three this was an undesirable and potentially dangerous situation as this could mean blow by from cylinder three to the scavenge space, and lead to a scavenge fire during engine running - a dangerous and potentially damaging situation.  

Viewing piston rings through scavenge ports - within circle you can see missing bits

Broken pieces of piston ring in bottom of scavenge space

So, suddenly we were into discussions as to when the soonest these problems could be rectified, which as the port stay in Antwerp was long enough, was immediately!  After checking we had the spares in stock we began the job, at about four or five in the afternoon.  By 9:30pm we had the piston out and had already put new rings on it, ready to be replaced in the engine.  To preserve everybody's sanity, it was replaced and finished the next day.  

Lifting cylinder head off

Lifting piston with piston rod and stuffing box attached

Breaks in piston ring circled in red.

New piston rings on

That was the end of my time on Greta C.  It was short, but a very good experience and a good refresher on two stroke slow speed engines - useful as I had originally been with a two stroke on Andrea Anon, but that was on my initial sea phase (Nomadic Milde has a medium speed four stroke engine).  And it was great as you always learn something new.  

Anyway, back home now and preparing to go back for the final part at the academy, which begins on the 30th Jan.

One last question/comment:  Does anybody understand how to use a perhaps Japanese coat hanger which is only about 15cm long?  Photo below - answers anyone?

Monday, 9 January 2012

Hamburg done. Bring me Antwerp.

We've left Hamburg and are headed for Antwerp now where I will disembark at some point. There will be masses to do in Hamburg though, as we are bunkering close to 1000 cubic metres of fuel, spare parts needed will arrive, and many supplies including the much wanted milk that we currently have none of (the ship is rumoured to be heading Africa way next so we are stocking up). It's colossal to think that this figure for the fuel is a million litres! And remember that this is a small ship (roughly 136m long and only 13000 tonnes deadweight).

So yes, ships do have a lot to answer for in terms of pollution and in recent years international laws for emissions and fuel have been changing - soon they will be changing again to become even more stringent.

It's taken years for shipping to come under fire, mostly as I think that shipping is largely out of the public eye. I mean who ever realises or remembers how all those shiny new phones, laptops and almost everything arrives in their clutches. Ships is how. It's easy to see how the car industries were targeted earlier.

It's particularly forgotten how most of our goods come by ship, especially at Christmas time I think: when everybody is at home with family opening presents that most likely were not made in their country (we're used to that in England), it is most likely that the people involved in delivering them aren't in fact sitting down doing the same thing with their family. They are possibly braving heavy winter oceans while fitting in a Christmas dinner around the ship's watches and maybe getting a chance to speak to their loved ones on sat phone. On my last ship the cook wasn't ending his contract until March 2013 i think. Considering he has to cook everyday of the week, month and year for the crew that is pretty tough going. Of course the crews are getting paid, but I still know which of the two scenarios I would prefer and I daresay when it comes to that particular time their thoughts are with home.

Back on topic - fuel etc. I read a couple of years ago that eighty percent of world trade is carried by ship. With a small ship like this getting through around twenty tonnes of fuel per day, who can say it doesn't add up massively. However, it is still the most efficient way to transport goods. If you think just how many iPhones and other consumer goods can be fitted on one ship it is astonishing. Even on our tiny multipurpose cargo ship we can carry 771 (TEU) containers. Can you imagine just how many goods can fit in that space? There are many ships that carry many thousands of containers at once - you could fit quite a few ships of this size inside those ships!

Anyway, Greta C - that's the ship I'm on in case I didn't mention or you just forgot. It's Japanese built (2009) and very different to the Chinese built ones I was on. Mostly the technology seems to be far more old fashioned. This won't mean much to many of you but I feel like I've arrived at one of the Dharma Initiative stations from the tv show Lost. There is 'the button' to be pushed, but luckily on this ship not as regular as every 108 minutes - here it is the 'mute alarm' button for the machinery spaces. In all my time writing this blog I have most likely failed to explain just what I do here and also what a typical day is like. You probably all have no real idea what a marine engineer does. To explain now by typing it out on my phone would be tantamount to a repetitive strain injury and a serious headache. I do however promise that I will do a completely separate blog post on what we actually do, as it is my fault of course that it is still largely a mystery.

What I will explain is that in any modern ship there are thousands of sensors, many of which are monitored by the automatic monitoring system. If any of the many many machines runs out of 'normal' parameters we've set in the monitoring system then an alarm goes off. In order to stop the most annoying repetitive sound from continuing you have to mute the alarm from the ECR (engine control room) by pressing 'the button' and acknowledge it by pressing another button. Then of course you have to investigate the cause of the alarm if appropriate.

The number of alarms can range from none to as many as there are sensors for (although the same alarm can go off many times in one day if a problem occurs on and off). I have heard of one ship where it was/is one engineer's job for the duration of his entire engine room watch to sit and not move away from the computer in the ECR - there was/is that many alarms constantly. In addition to thinking about the number of alarms it is also a question of when. It could be deadly convenient; you might just be standing by the computer when an alarm goes off. Or, you could be fast asleep at 3am to be woken by this; it could happen all night. For training new parents, pre baby arrival they should send them to sea. This, the sometimes crazy port schedules, the long contracts, and the now reduced amount of staff on ships are all contributory reasons for why the seafaring industry is riddled with fatigue.

On this ship, it's been very quiet regarding alarms (we've only had two or three) - must be a compliment to the Russian Engineering standards (Chief and Second Engineer are both Russian). Obviously looks can be deceiving, and by this I don't mean the Russians! What I mean is that the engine room here doesn't exactly look like the grand production floor of the mighty Maclaren building in England (cheer right now for something that is proudly made in England - even if it's statistically unlikely that any of us can afford to actually buy one of these that may bear the 'made in the uk' words). There is a distinct lack of beauty here, and frankly you wouldn't be that enthusiastic if you came in here - compared to this the last Chinese ship I was on looks like a Maclaren factory. As i said though, looks can be deceiving. In gritty engineering places like this, you will care more about whether you are woken up at 3am by a preventable alarm than whether the machines will win a concours award at the next show n shine competition.

For now, I must get some rest as I don't know what the plan is for tomorrow - if the ship has one for us anyway. If not, we'll attempt to use our own plan...

Saturday, 7 January 2012

On Board Greta C

Well I'm on board already. The whole travelling was over so quickly - no doubt this was partly psychological due to the journeys to and from the last ship being so long.

BA were fantastic as usual and apart from some turbulence and a rough landing (there were a couple of shrieks emitted - not from me!) we arrived in Hamburg safely where I met the agent.

The port was a fifteen minute drive from the airport and the agent dropped me at the ship immediately.

The boarding ladder was somewhat far away from the dockside so I actually had to sit on a slippery old wooden dock post and then climb aboard - it was this careful approach or the leap of faith. With the constant rain here the latter would have been somewhat dumb as it's so slippery. However, my boarding this way somehow involved my hands delving into some substance which smells like cowshit - surprise! Despite repeated washing I smell like a vet that's been arm deep...

The ship: Japanese this time rather than Chinese and it's very different. The last two ships both came from the same yard in China so had similarities. I can immediately see the difference in build quality and the way things are done differently. The Japanese ship (from what I've seen so far, and also have heard many engineers profess the Japanese ship quality as superior) is better made (and I'm mainly counting what I can see and encounter rather than inspecting the construction of the hull!), however there is something very institutional and clinical about the interior. The doors are all metal rather than wood and everything is square and box like rather than rounded and smooth. Differing styles, but less beauty in this one.

Anyway, enough rambling - Tomorrow: hammer and tongs. I'm told we leave port on Monday headed for Antwerp which is only a one day voyage. The captain joked about us heading somewhere else much much further away. He joked...

Friday, 6 January 2012

New Orders - Last Leg

My orders have come in - I fly to Hamburg tomorrow to pick up Greta C, and work onboard until we reach Rotterdam where I will disembark and fly back here.  Must pack now...