This innocuous, minor grounding
is replete with important lessons.
Despite the "fix", another steering system
failure on this ship became public just 8 months later.
The ship had switched Class from BV to DNV on 2005-11-04.
No maintenance records were available before then.
The standard practice in marine tranportation
is that whenever a ship changes owners
--- or even managers --- the maintenance records disappear.
In aircraft, it is a requirement
that all maintenance records stay with the airplane.
The available (2006) maintenance records show
no steering gear losses,
but do show three instances of repairs
without saying what prompted the repair.
Only the most trusting would believe
that the four failures in April 2007,
were the only such failures;
but we have no record.
(One of the repairs involved replacing two hoses
with over-length hoses, contrary to IACS requirements,
but this repair were subsequently
inspected and approved by DNV.)
TSB made a big and valid deal about
the lack of maintenance records,
recommending aircraft style rules to IMO,
which recommendation as of late 2009 had gone no where.
TSB also recommended the Solas requirement
that both pumps be on-line in tight navigational situations
The Solas requirement is aimed at speeding up response,
basically halving the lock to lock time
from about 25 seconds to about 12,
and eliminating the delay if one pump fails.
But TSB points out with systems such as this ship's,
having both pumps on line can create more problems
than it solves.
The core problem here is not two pumps;
but poorly designed and horribly unreliable systems.
This is not just confined to the Fluidmecanica machinery.
IACS which has far, far more failure data available to it
than the public requires that a notice
be posted near the steering control stand saying
"Caution: In some circumstances when two power
units are running simultaneously,
the rudder may not respond to helm.
If this happens, stop each pump in turn
until control is regained."
Can you imagine the FAA requiring a similar
notice for two engine aircraft?
The Sichem Aneline was carrying 7,781 tons
of highly toxic, highly volatile benzene.
If she had hit another ship as the result
of her steering problems,
we could have had a big spill and or fireball,
and probably no idea why.
As it is, we know pretty much exactly what happened,
but this information has been pretty much ignored
by the regulatory system.