Dead in the Water

Maritime Reporter & Engineering News
Wednesday, May 01, 2013

Electrical System Failure at Sea

The world watched as the Carnival Triumph sat still, dead in the water in the Gulf of Mexico after a main space fire caused a total loss of electrical power.  For the 3,143 passengers and 1,000-plus crewmembers, there was no heat or air conditioning, toilets or sanitation, lights or  ventilation.  Fortunately, despite the seriousness of the fire, which was caused by a leaking fuel line, nobody was hurt.  We waited and watched for several days for tugs to arrive on the scene and begin the slow process of pulling the 893-foot ship to port to let her passengers debark and commence repairs.
Problems on cruise ships have high visibility.  Today many ponder the discomfort of those on board and debate a “cruise passenger bill of rights.”  Engineering problems can affect all ships, so maritime professionals should ponder how a main space fire could eliminate all capability to generate power and the consequences if that should occur.  No single point of failure should cause a ship to lose all power.
According to marine electrical engineer Moni Islam, there are several factors to be addressed to reduce the likelihood of power failures, not just on cruise ships but all types of vessels and offshore platforms.  He is particularly concerned with ships that feature integrated electric propulsion.
“We need to redefine failure mode and effects analysis (FMEA) to better understand the weak links in the electrical system,” says Islam.  “It’s important to monitor and maintain a baseline electrical system configuration so that any deviation is quickly identified and attended in a timely manner by a knowledgeable operator.”
Systems employ “black boxes,” that can monitor or control electrical propulsion processes without any human intervention.  But, Islam says, operators are not trained recognize when the black box has found a problem, or to be able to do anything about it.  “We need to train shipboard engineers better, or make the system smart enough to self-repair the problem.” 
This will require an evaluation of the skill-level and amount of training necessary to safely operate integrated electric power systems at sea, i.e., what capability is needed at sea and what can remain on shore, he says.
Black outs are a problem, and ships that go dark, especially with passengers, draw public attention and scrutiny.  To prevent worst-case bolted electric fault-related cascading failures, Islam says new ships should be designed with more and larger emergency generators to carry the vital loads if there is a main propulsion failure.  Retrofitting existing ships with larger generators, or installing additional generating capacity during refit, should be considered.  Islam also recommends mandating uninterrupted power supply systems (UPS) to kick in to provide no-break power between the initiation of a blackout and availability of emergency power.
“We must redefine vital and redundant auxiliaries and their performance requirements,” Islam says.  “We also need to employ smart reconfiguration control system for vital auxiliaries.”
Islam says research is needed to determine the best method to manage medium voltage (MV) system grounding and monitor system-level electrical ground capacitance.
One way to prevent total ship power outages resulting from major fires is to install fire-rated power cables and insulated bus pipe installations for critical applications, he says.
Islam points to fires resulting from variable frequency drive (VFD) units.  “We need to better understand and manage the harmful effect of VFD harmonics.”
Systems by system, the operating characteristics are well understood.  However, there is insufficient information to determine if the integration of these electrical systems is a root cause of the problems being experienced.  Islam’s suggestions are aimed at designers, operators, maintainers and regulators.  “All of these ideas require investigation,” Islam says.  “We need additional research and development efforts to identify affordable, acceptable, practical solutions that take the greatest advantage of installed hardware and software, and of shipboard personnel who are trained appropriately.”

Islam is chairing a committee of industry, government and academic representatives to update IEEE Std 45, the standard for designing and reliably operating and maintaining electrical installations aboard ships.  The updated standard should supply solutions to these operational problems.  He can be reached by phone at 504-333-5004 or by e-mail at or

(As published in the April 2013 edition of Maritime Reporter & Engineering News -

Maritime Reporter September 2015 Digital Edition
FREE Maritime Reporter Subscription
Latest Maritime News    rss feeds


NMEA Award for Simrad HALO Pulse Compression Radar

Simrad HALO Pulse Compression Radar has been awarded the Technology Award at the 2015 National Marine Electronics Association (NMEA) Conference and Expo in Baltimore, Md.

Two RAscal 1500 Tugs Delivered

Sanmar Shipyard of Turkey has recently completed two RAscal 1500 tugs for Jordanian owners. The tugs are now delivering marine services to the FSRU berthing

Xerox, MHI Ink ITS Project Deal

Today, at the ITS World Congress and Exhibition, Xerox and Mitsubishi Heavy Industries (MHI), both leaders in transportation solutions, signed a Memorandum of Understanding to explore,

Passenger Vessels

Azerbaijan to Get New Passenger Vessel This Year-end

Azerbaijan Caspian Shipping Company  expects to get the first of the three passenger vessels being built currently at the Baku Shipbuilding & Repair Plant (Baku Shipyard LLC) until the end of 2015,

Abu Dhabi Ports Welcomes New Cruise Season

As Abu Dhabi's new Zayed Port cruise terminal opens by the end of this year, the number of cruise ships docking in Abu Dhabi is set to increase by a fifth this season, reports the National.

Cruise Critic Awards Best Cruise Lines of 2015

Online cruise guide Cruise Critic has announced the winners of its annual Editors' Picks Awards for 2015, revealing the industry's top performers in a variety of different categories.


NMEA Award for Simrad HALO Pulse Compression Radar

Simrad HALO Pulse Compression Radar has been awarded the Technology Award at the 2015 National Marine Electronics Association (NMEA) Conference and Expo in Baltimore, Md.

TRON 40VDR a Big Hit First Year of Launch

In September 2014, after several years of development in close collaboration with major VDR manufacturers, the Jotron combined float free emergency position

Maersk to Install Inmarsat's Entertainment Service

The leading provider of global mobile satellite communications services, today announced that Maersk Tankers, the owner and operator of one of the world’s largest fleets of product tankers,

Maritime Careers / Shipboard Positions Maritime Standards Naval Architecture Navigation Pod Propulsion Salvage Ship Repair Shipbuilding / Vessel Construction Sonar Winch
rss | archive | history | articles | privacy | contributors | top maritime news | about us | copyright | maritime magazines
maritime security news | shipbuilding news | maritime industry | shipping news | maritime reporting | workboats news | ship design | maritime business

Time taken: 0.2608 sec (4 req/sec)