The greater use of low sulphur fuels and electric propulsion means that condition monitoring is crucial, says Parker Kittiwake marine condition monitoring manager Larry Rumbol
As many as 25.8 million passengers are expected to take a cruise over the course of 2017, according to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA). At the same time, there will be a total investment of more than US$6.8 billion in new ocean vessels this year.
Yet for even the most advanced cruise ships, there remain technical challenges. The introduction of the European and North American Emissions Control Areas (ECAs) has led to an increase in the use of low sulphur fuels and, with the global ECA set to enter into force in 2020, this will only increase.
One side effect of these fuels is a rise in the number of vessels impacted by cat fines. These aluminium and silicon compounds are used in oil processing to enable a higher yield of distillate fuels to be extracted from the feedstock, but often get carried over into the end product used as ships’ fuel. A recent analysis of more than 400,000 oil samples by ExxonMobil showed that 43% of vessels have a potentially catastrophic issue with cat fines.
Damage caused by the ingress of cat fines can incur significant costs, with the price of replacing just one liner estimated at US$65,000 for parts alone. This can rapidly escalate to more than US$1 million when the labour and the accompanying expenses of downtime, repair and off-hire are also considered, as well as the likely event that multiple cylinders are affected.
In light of research that has shown that even particles of 10 µm can contribute to wear, tools that can identify cat fines’ presence are vital for consistent operations. The Parker Kittiwake Cat Fines Test Kit is one such piece of equipment. Using a straightforward pre-mixed chemical bottle test that identifies the presence of cat fines in a representative sample of fuel oil, engineers become able to spot these abrasive particles in the fuel oil before it enters the system – either during the bunkering of new fuel or from the settling tank when it has been stirred up during bad weather.
Today the majority of major cruise ships built since 2000 use electric propulsion, with some now featuring units of more than 20 MW. Combining propulsion and steering has had numerous benefits, including better manoeuvrability, more space on board for passengers and lower levels of noise and vibration. However, there are those who believe that demands on pod power have increased faster than the design technology required to deliver it effectively and that this has caused difficulties in ensuring that the thrust bearings remain fully operational at all times.
To help avoid this, Parker Kittiwake's ThrusterScan monitors the lubrication system of azimuth thrusters, and provides automated warnings of potential faults. By providing a constant assessment on signs of wear, oil degradation and seal failure, problems are detected in their infancy. This facilitates immediate, preventative action. Furthermore, all information can be accessed remotely using an internet browser, giving complete operational control no matter where you are in the world.
Why does this matter?
Without evidence that operators are taking all reasonable precautions to protect the health and safety of passengers and crew, commercial success could be at risk. By taking sensible measures, it is possible to protect passengers, crew and the general public from the consequences of mechanical failure. The focus should be on proactive and preventative measures, rather than reactive and curative.
As the shipping industry evolves and reacts to increasingly challenging market conditions and regulations, successful operators capitalise on the opportunity to retain a competitive edge. It is the leaders of the pack that tackle these issues head on, realising that destiny is not a matter of chance, but of choice.