In the last decades ships generally have increased in size and crews whenever it can be done by the operators have been reduced. In some cases to levels which are inherently dangerous because there are not enough personnel to properly mann the response when an emergency occurs.
During the last few years there have been numerous fires in various parts of passenger ships which have in some cases been quite quickly extinguished but in other cases have been major disasters fully covered in every detail by the Media with CNN in the forefront of this coverage.
Just this last week there were fires in the ships of two navies the Indian Navy and the Royal Canadian Navy. Sadly in the case of a fire aboard an Indian Navy submarine's battery compartment two Officers lost there lives and several Ratings were injured. The Canadian Navy replenishment ship had some twenty crew injured responding successfully to an engine room fire.
A vessels engine room is all too easily a source of fire hazard due to the three requirements of the fire triangle always being present namely - fuel - air - heat. All too common in vessel manning today the engine rooms are certified to be unmanned and all too common today this means there is nobody physically in the engine room at night. While there maybe a closed circuit TV and an alarm system there is no physical inspection on a routine basis for as much as twelve (12) hours.
In the opinion of NAUTICAL LOG in older ships the engine room should never be unmanned however due again to the International Maritime Organization (IMO) approved manning scales there are often not enough crew on board to set effective watches. As with other safety issues at sea and maritime issues in general this is once again a decision of the IMO which borders on the irresponsible or indeed crosses that line.
A Master should therefore have the Chief Engineer and Safety Officer develop a check off list for the particular vessel commanded. It should cover all the points to be inspected in an engine room and any compartment where machinery such as air-conditioning and fans are running. This list should cover all the readings obtainable from the machines various gauges, connection points, valve joints, attachments, pipeholders, loose connections, vibration, et cetera observable by walking around, smelling, and observing intelligently, throughout the compartments involved. In addition there should be a second RED check off list which covers those points not easily observable by the walking observation which may need a mirror - please NOT glass but polished metal - to observe that particular point. Both these check off lists should do just that while on patrol and then both results must be entered in the Engine Room Logbook.
How many times have slight fuel or lube oil drips barely observable built-up and led eventually to a major ignition and disaster in vessels.
The Royal Canadian Navy vessel HMCS Protocteur AOR-509 is currently under tow by the USS Chosin CG-65 to Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii while the USNS Sioux T-ATF-171 is on passage to assist as needed or possibly take over the tow.