There have been several cruise ship disasters in the last few years. Not just the one in the news now, nor even the ones that made the big network news in the last couple of years. In a web search more showed up than I care to think about.
From the wiki, powerplant:
4 x Wärtsilä 16V 46C-CR / 16,800 kW (22,848 mHP),
2 x GE LM2500+ / 25,060 kW (34,082 mHP)
Four 21.5 MW Rolls-Royce/Alstom “Mermaid” electric propulsion pods:
2 fixed and 2 azimuthing
Looking into it a little bit, there is an odd potential connection to China.
This has been an ongoing observation on my part in other areas. Known brands that “go off” a bit after they move some production or materials to being sourced from China. We’ve had “name maker” toys show up with lead paint. We’ve had adulterated ingredients in other goods as well. I tried a can of oysters from Walmart that just didn’t taste quite right. Polar brand. I’d had their kippers before, that are marked “Product of Germany” and were good. Looking at the can of oysters, it said “Product of China”. Instead of the usual green color to the ‘guts’ (due to filter feeding green algae) the color was sort of yellowish… So now I have to read every can of every food product that I buy to make sure none are “made in China” with God only knows what in the can.
So what does all this have to do with Cruise Ships?
Big Engines and Little Engines
First off, I’d started looking for “Why don’t cruise ships have backup / auxiliary generators?” as it seemed to me that if I was carting around a city of 4000 people I’d have the basics able to be powered by the “second generator” away from the main engine room. Yes, the “big engine” needs to simply “always work” and it is reasonable to expect it to do so… but I carry a ‘backup power supply’ for my ‘emergency gear’ any time I take my little car out with just one person in it. I have a 1 kW Honda for the home for when power fails. It’s just prudent and something a “Reasonable Man” would do. (A legal term of art).
Often I’ll put a little “jump start kit” in my car. It is about a $40 item and has a built in battery and cables to let you jump start your car. Built in charger, too, so can plug into the hotel room wall socket (or into the inverter when the car is running). It has a 12 VDC “cigarette lighter” type outlet, so can also power the ‘emergency light kit’ and the inverter to make 120 VAC for laptop or cell phone charging too.
So for all up, less than $100, closer to about $70; I have “emergency power” that runs both ways, from car to standby power pack and from standby power pack to jump-start car (and from both to 120 VAC for ‘appliances’ and chargers.)
Why, I wondered, doesn’t a multi-hundred-million ship with thousands of people on board not have an ‘auxiliary power plant’?
Well, turns out it does. And that may be part of the problem…
This is from back in 2000, so well before any China connection:
On January 11, 2000 around 2300 hours, Carnival Cruise Lines’ Carnival Celebration had an engine room fire while the cruise ship was approximately 100 miles northwest of Jamaica.
The fire is reported to have started in the auxiliary generator system.
Carnival Celebration was able to get to Montego Bay, Jamaica where all passengers were flown back to New Orleans. The next two cruises were canceled.
So “something happens” in the auxiliary power room… And that’s not the only one. These folks have an interesting list of the ‘big lumps’:
But my concern is the frequency of recent cruise ship engine room fires that have been caused by engine room explosions. To the best of my knowledge, one company, a German maker named Wartsilla, makes the vast majority of engines installed on large ships, but I am not going to blame them just yet because I do not have the ability to verify the specifics of each ship or what actually caused the the individual explosions. In some cases the explosions or fires were not the actual engines, but the control panels used to manage the power systems.
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/W%E4rtsil%E4 says that Wärtsilä is a Finnish corporation. But it has clearly been acting as an M&A / Rollup company, so who knows how much of what it does is located where, and what it has as major “focus” in terms of nationality (if any).
Quoted List from Wiki:
2012: Wärtsilä acquires Hamworthy plc, a UK-listed engineering company focussed on the marine and oil and gas sectors.
2011: Wärtsilä opens its global logistics center at Kampen, the Netherlands
2010: Majority of the propeller production and auxiliary engine production was moved to China
2009: Wärtsilä joins UN Global Compact, the world’s largest corporate responsibility initiative
2008: Wärtsilä acquires the global ship design group Vik-Sandvik and Conan Wu & Associates Pte Ltd (CWA), a leading naval architecture and ship design company in Singapore.
2007: Wärtsilä Ship Power was reorganised into five Ship Power customer segments: Merchant, Offshore, Cruise&Ferry, Navy, and special vessels.
2006: The Ciserv-group was integrated into the Wärtsilä Services organisation. Wärtsilä let go the brand names Ciserv and Sulzer;
2005: Wärtsilä acquires DEUTZ-marine large engine service business for the following five years exclusive, thereafter non-exclusive open for Deutz.
2003: Wärtsilä Ltd is caught up in Sweden’s largest-ever bribery prosecution. Wärtsilä found not guilty in all instances in the so-called Gotland case.
2004: Wärtsilä’s Chinese propeller company started production.
2002: The Ciserv-group, led by Pierpaolo Barbone, expanded in Singapore, Denmark, and Canada. Wärtsilä acquired John Crane-Lips, which operates within Wärtsilä under the name Wärtsilä Propulsion.
2001: Wärtsilä sells its holding in Sanitec. Wärtsilä takes ownership of service company Ciserv AB and Sermet Oy.
2000: Wärtsilä NSD and John Crane-Lips sign an alliance. Metra group is renamed as Wärtsilä Corporation.
1999: The split of the Cummins-Wärtsilä joint venture.
1997: In April, Wärtsilä Diesel absorbed the former Swiss-based Sulzer Brothers Ltd. division called New Sulzer Diesel (NSD) to form Wärtsilä NSD. The reference to the name “Sulzer” is until q1-2006 used in the designation of engines Wärtsilä inherited from the absorption of New Sulzer Diesel. Wärtsilä NSD Corporation is created.
1995: Wärtsilä Diesel and Cummins Engine Company Inc. set up a joint venture.
1991: Imatra Steel is created when Ovako AB is split up between its owners, Metra and SKF.
1990: Merged into Lohja Corporation, later renamed Metra Corporation.
1989: Wärtsilä Diesel acquires SACM and Stork Werkspoor B.V. This company is renamed Stork-Wärtsilä Diesel B.V.
1988: A company is set up in India and floated on the Bombay Stock Exchange.
1984: Quoted on the London stock exchange.
1981: Manufactured hovercraft Larus
1978: Acquisition of 51% of the NOHAB diesel business, the remaining shares are acquired in 1984.
1938: Wärtsilä signs a licence agreement and the first diesel engine is built in Turku in 1942.
1965: The company is renamed Oy Wärtsilä Ab.
1936: Acquisition of the Onkilahti engineering workshop in Vaasa.
1898: The sawmill and iron works company is renamed Wärtsilä Ab.
1834: Establishment in the municipality of Tohmajärvi.
End Quoted List.
So one immediate issue would just be that so many companies have been ‘rolled up’ into one, that will act more and more as a monopoly and with less care for product vs price. (No knock on them in particular. That is just what happens in oligopolies and monopolies. The product tends to stagnate or even lose quality while prices rise; in the push for more profit fed by lack of competition.)
But part of what caught my eye was that line in 2004 where ‘propeller’ making moves to China ( most likely ‘propulsor’ as ships use more electrically driven pods and hydraulic drives and fewer big brass rotating things…) then that line in 2010 where not only the “propellers” but the “auxiliary engine” production is in China now too. So we had some Aux Gen fires before moving it to China; any bets about quality going up vs down in the move to ever cheaper production?…
More ships are going to electric motors in “pods” that do the actual propelling and with the engine just being a giant electric generator plant (rather like Diesel Electric locomotives on trains). The “electrical plant” and “electrical panels” are ever more critical and carrying ever more power. From that same link about cruise fires above:
MSC Opera – this beautiful cruise ship built in the STX shipyard in France suffered an engine failure in the Swedish archipelago when it was sailing towards Stockholm just last May. In this case there was no explosion, but there was a failure in the electrical panel that controls the engines. The entire ship lost (electrical) power, meaning there were no working toilets, lights, etc., beyond the emergency power made available through an auxiliary generator system each ship keeps. The ship was towed to Stockholm and the rest of the cruise was cancelled.
In April of 2011 a Mexican cruise ship, the Ocean Star Pacific, had a generator fire when it was sailing off the west coast of Mexico near Mazatlan – no one was injured but the entire passenger contingent had to be evacuated by lifeboat.
The following month, December 2010, the mighty Queen Mary 2 had a “leaky capacitor” in another engine room control panel that resulted in an arc flash that blew the steel doors off of the control room. Fortunately no one was injured, but the ship lost all power and floated adrift off the coast of Spain for about 30 minutes.
Many people also forget that the Norwegian Epic had a main generator engine explosion in the STX shipyard in France just before it was delivered to NCL. That incident required cutting a hole in the hull, taking out the engine and replacing it with a new one – the same steps as were taken in dry dock for the Carnival Splendor.
So looks to me like they are having a bit of a problem with that whole “massive electricity” and salt water mixing thing ;-)
But seriously: It looks like the electrical components are supersized, but not suitably safe nor safeguarded. Then the Auxiliary Powerplant is now made in China and prone to blowing up too.
I’m just not seeing a whole lot to give confidence here…
The engines where we are seeing explosions on these ships are not the kind of engine you have in an automobile or a propeller-driven airplane. Rather, they are electrical generators which create a current that in turn drives the propeller systems with separate motors powered by the electricity generated by the “engine.” You can imagine the amount of electricity that must be generated to turn a propeller fast and hard enough to move the 150,000-ton Queen Mary 2. That ship actually has five separate propellers mounted to external pods below the stern of the ship.
This pod system is now used on most new cruise ships, including the Carnival Splendor and MSC Opera. Strangely, the Norwegian Epic uses the older style “screw-driven” propeller coming straight out of the ship, but those propellers are still driven by electricity – not steam powered as on the old Norway.
I’m beginning to think that maybe there’s a bit of a structural problem here with giant electrical power production being run through less than stellar reliability control panels and with ‘lowest cost first’ auxiliary power equipment. I’d also suspect that the ‘power panel’ equipment was moved with the auxiliary production to ‘low cost sources’; but that needs validation.
What I’ve observed in other “roll up” companies is that a competitor, sometimes even one with a “good name”, starts to ‘expand’ by buying out other competitors rather than actually making better products and more sales. This, then, leads to cost cutting strategies that enable more ‘buy outs’ and this pattern continues until there isn’t a lot of effective competition left. About then, the only route to ‘continued sales and profits increases’ (and, thus, higher stock prices and executive rewards) is to “cheapen the product”. Drug Stores in the USA just went through this a few years back with Rite-Aid driving others out of business with lower prices and lower quality products and services. Rexall, Longs, and a few others driven out or into mergers. Now it’s pretty much just CVS, Walgreens, and Rite Aid (and even there, there is ongoing merger speculation)
Longs was mergered into CVS, while Walgreens has had it’s own set of mergers. But a decade back or so, it was Rite Aid that was the hot stock on a ‘rollup’ strategy. (Later they hit a pause, had some ‘irregularities’ asserted, and it came to a screeching halt, just long enough for it to be noticed that they were not actually making more sales, just buying them…)
So part of me is wondering if the same process is playing out here, in Monster Engines. Quality and reliability being second place to profit margin and increased ‘sales’ year over year (even if by ‘rolling up’ the competition…)
Starting with the “little unimportant bits”, like maybe auxiliary power plants and control panels… that have been bursting into flames, it would seem…
As is typical for this kind of ‘dig here’, there is not nearly enough information to make any definitive conclusions. Only enough to have ‘poorly founded speculation’. But that is often all you have to work with for investment / trading decisions. If the best information you have is “crap data”, that’s what you work with. And you can still get some value from it. (Just don’t be married to any particular idea based on crap data… be skeptical even while using it.)
We clearly have a ‘rollup’ strategy being used.
We clearly have a ‘cheapen the costs’ strategy with production moving to India and China. (See the 1988 line about an India company being set up.)
We clearly have an increase in engine / electrical fires and explosions in the transition of drive trains and the increased emphasis on very high power electrical panels.
We clearly have “issues” with auxiliary power not being built as “emergency reliable quality” power.
From all of those, there is one simple conclusion I would reach, and an immediate “corrective action” I’d take as a buyer of large ships:
Have 2 auxiliary power rooms (at least), each separated from the other and from the main engine room. Have 2 different makes of gear in the 2 rooms with isolation between them.
Have one near and for the bridge, navigation, and all other necessary equipment to run the ship (but sized to run kitchens, water, ventilation a/c and sewage as well) and the other for the infrastructure (kitchens, water, sewage, ventilation a/c) but sized to support emergency bridge ops as well. Have each able to ‘cross connect’ to the other distribution grid (but NOT connected and only can be connected via a manual cross connect action to prevent ‘cascade failures’) Normal operations powered from the main engine generator (and a third isolated cross connect…) Have at least 2 small electric ‘station keeping’ motor /pods that can be connected to the emergency generators for “crawling” the ship at a knot or two away from hazards in a power fail of the main propulsion.
Have the vendor of equipment for each of the two auxiliary rooms be someone other than the main propulsion maker. This avoids systemic failure modes… Do NOT integrate the three switch rooms. Only have ‘cross connects’ between them and those normally isolated.
I’ve had the “main propulsion” fail on my boat (winds were not cooperating so the sails were useless. 3 knot current and I could only do about 1 knot) and the auxiliary engine balking (could not get the Diesel to run – turned out the throttle cable had come off). Being below decks working on the engine (frantically) while in a 3 knot drift toward the rocks of Angel Island does not “make my day”… I did get the motor going after getting the cable reconnected and all, but in a ‘many thousand passenger’ ship, I’d like to know I could do a couple of knots to move sideways and miss the island or at least ‘hold off’ of it while awaiting an emergency tug…)
Belt and suspenders AND overalls…
It looks to me like the confluence of cheaper / less defensive design of the whole machine room with cheaper / less reliable electrical components, mixed with a poor understanding of how shared critical parts can take down the whole system.
When sinking some odd $Millions (or Hundreds of $Millions) into making one of these, having a couple of medium sized aux generator rooms would not be a significant cost addition. Having one with Caterpillar Emergency Standby generators of the kind used in hospitals all over the USA would likely result in lower costs, as the “primary” power plant supplier would know that the competition was “in the house”…
I’m left wondering what happened to the ship designers of yesteryear who made highly reliable and ‘takes a punch’ ships. Having a capacitor arc out (as they will do…) and have THAT take out the entire ship propulsion? Just designed to be “on the rocks”, IMHO.
Then again, I’m the kind of guy who would design in two isolated engine rooms with isolated fuel tanks too…
The Queen Mary 2 cost a bit under $Billion to build ( $900 Million) and has a basic design which meets my approach in that it has multiple engines, but seem lacking in the follow through / isolation. That it was taken down by a single capacitor blowing out implies that it is the control panel design that is defective / not safe enough.
Queen Mary 2 is not a steamship like many of her predecessors, but is powered primarily by four diesel engines, with two additional gas turbines used when extra power is required; this integrated electric propulsion configuration is used to produce the power to drive her four electric propulsion pods as well as powering the ship’s hotel services.
So 4 Diesels plus 2 aux turbines. Still could not make it go in an emergency… after one capacitor blows. So all they really needed was a secondary switch room / power conditioning system. I wonder if they put all this gear in one big room with one big power bus… Clearly not thinking in terms of “bullet proof”…
As a computer room designer, we always had dual power feeds with dual power conditioning and distribution systems. Some even have two distinct grid connections (for high reliability sites with big gear) AND standby generators on a third connection. Maybe I ought to apply to be a ship electrical design reviewer…
My Approach: Put 1/2 the Diesels in the PORT engine room and the other half in the STARBOARD engine room. Each powers the pods on their side and has a ‘cross connect’ available to the other side. Put the turbines in the “center forward engine room” with cross connects / added power feed to both sets of pods. Have separate switch rooms for each. Make sure each will fault isolate in the case of surges / shorts from the other, and do so without failure. Stock spares of critical power panel components in the forward locker…
Maybe I’m just too old fashioned and too careful. Or maybe I’ve been drifting at the rocks on the tide / currents and madly trying to get an engine fixed…
Achille Lauro Fire 1994
Al-Salaam Boccaccio Fire 2006
Allure Of The Seas Fire 2012
Aurora Fire 2007
Azamara Quest Fire 2012
Bahamas Celebration 2011
Calypso Fire 2006
Carnival Celebration Bomb 2007
Carnival Celebration Fire 2000
Carnival Celebration Fire 1995
Carnival Ecstasy Fire 2009
Carnival Ecstasy Fire 1998
Carnival Elation Bomb 2011
Carnival Fascination Bomb 2010
Carnival Freedom Fire 2010
Carnival Freedom Fire 2007
Carnival Imagination Bomb 2011
Carnival Imagination Fire 2010
Carnival Inspiration Fire 2007
Carnival Pride Fire 2009
Carnival Sensation Bomb 2007
Carnival Sensation Bomb 2010
Carnival Splendor Fire 11/2010
Carnival Splendor Fire 10/2010
Carnival Spirit Explosion 2007
Carnival Triumph Fire 02/2013
Carnival Triumph Bomb 2001
Carnival Tropicale Fire 1999
Costa Allegra Fire 2012
Emerald Seas Fire 1986
Enchantment Of The Seas 2007
Grand Princess Fire 2008
Independence Of The Seas 2011
Island Princess Bombs 1973
Lakonia Fire 1963
Legend Of The Seas Bomb 2003
Levina 1 Fire 2007
Liberty Of The Seas Bomb 2010
Lisco Gloria Fire 2010
Nieuw Amsterdam Fire 2000
Nordic Empress Fire 2001
Nordlys Fire 2011
Ocean Star Pacific Fire 2011
Pearl Of Scandinavia Fire 2010
Port Of L.A. Bomb 9/11/2006
Prinsendam Fire 1980
Queen Elizabeth/Seawise U Fire
Queen Mary 2 Explosion 2010
Queen Of The West Fire 2008
Regent Star Fire 1995
Royal Princess Fire 2009
Scandinavian Sea Fire 1984
Scandinavian Star Fire 1990
Scandinavian Sun Fire 1984
SS General Slocum Fire 1904
SS Morro Castle Fire 1934
SS Noronic Arson Fire 1949
SS Norway Explosion 2003
SS Mariposa Bomb Threat 1973
SS Saale Fire 1900
SS Yarmouth Castle Fire 1965
Star Princess Fire 10/2006
Star Princess Fire 3/2006
Super Ferry 14 Bomb/Fire 2004
Universe Explorer Fire 1996
Vincenzo Florio Fire 2009
Vistafjord Fire April 1997
Vistafjord Fire February 1997