Savannah Express MAIB Report

On July 19, 2005 the Savannah Express, one of the largest container ships in the world, was manuevering prior to berthing at Southampton Container Terminal, when her main engine failed. The engine was unable to be started astern to reduce the vessel's headway, and she made contact with a linkspan, which was seriously damaged. The vessel suffered paintwork damage to the bulbous bow.

Savannah Express had been delivered from the builders a few months before the
accident. She was equipped with a slow speed diesel engine of a novel design, with no mechanical timing gear (including camshaft and timing chains or gears) but, instead, was fitted with a fully integrated, and computer controlled, electrohydraulic control system.

A guarantee engineer had sailed with the vessel for about two weeks after she had left the builder’s yard, and the vessel’s first chief engineer had attended a basic training course designed by the engine manufacturers. However, the engineer officers onboard at the time of the accident had not received any type specific training from the engine manufacturers.

The engine control system had suffered a series of technical problems since the
vessel had come into service. A Engine Manufacturer FSR had visited the ship at the previous port of call to address these

An engine failure occurred as Savannah Express approached the pilot boarding ground on arrival at Southampton. The engineers misdiagnosed the cause of this failure and, although they managed to re-start the engine, they inadvertently disabled an integral part of the engine controlsystem, which effectively prevented sufficient hydraulic oil pressure to be supplied for the engine to operate astern.

This led to the second failure as the vessel entered the Upper Swinging Ground. The
cause of this second engine failure was also misdiagnosed by the engineers, and they
resorted to repeatedly turning the engine on compressed air in an attempt to ‘reset’ the control system electronics instead of determining the cause of the failure. Eventually,low air reserves prevented any further attempts to re-start the engine.

This accident illustrates the need for ship owners to ensure that the vessels operating personel are trained thoroughly in the operation of new technology.

Further details on the accident and the subsequent investigation can be found in the
MAIB’s investigation report, which is posted on its website,