It is believed that steering systems don’t show any fundamental complexity and they don’t easily fail, thus they are not properly maintained. However, in case of a steering gear failure, caused mostly by a collision or inefficient maintenance, it is possible to cause severe problems, as it implies total loss of vessel’s control. At this point, steering gear failure should be treated as an emergency situation and immediate actions should be followed in order to prevent human or property loss.
How to prevent steering failure
Flag administrations and Classification Societies, aiming to the prevention of steering gear failures, promote regulations and best practices, always based on IMO recommendations and on SOLAS 1974 requirements. According to these:
- All ships should have an auxiliary steering gear system operating in case of a main system failure.
- Scheduled maintenance program should be arranged for both the main and the auxiliary system.
- The crew should be properly trained and drilled, ready to face a similar occasion.
- Steering gear -main and auxiliary- should be checked and tested 12 hours before vessel’s departure, as appropriate.
- Voice communication between the bridge and the emergency steering station should also be maintained in order to be functional and handle emergency situations.
Real life incident
On August 31st 2009, a Chinese – Hong Kong flagged Bulk Carrier was not under commanded due to failure of steering gear near No 12 buoy on the way from Nantong to Shanghai and collided with a Chinese General Cargo ship while she was heaving up anchor at about 300m south of No 12 red and white buoy .The collision caused the General Cargo sinking and 5 crew members dropped into water, later all 5 crew were rescued. Loss and damage about 16 million yuan and reached serious accident in inland waters.
Actions to be taken in case of a steering failure
Maintenance procedures are not always followed respectfully, resulting to unfavorable situations, like the one described above. In such cases the crew should be vigilant and adequately trained to handle a steering gear failure situation, taking the following emergency actions:
- Call the master and advise engineer officer on watch
- Report to the office, inform port authority and fix vessel’s position and time of failure
- Investigate for navigational hazards and for the cause of failure
- Make sound signals, send URGENCY or DISTRESS message and exhibit shapes and lights, if necessary
- Disengage autopilot, start the emergency steering system and maneuver as appropriate-prepare for anchoring if the depth is suitable
SQE Marine in order to promote safety procedures during emergency situations, provides the following Emergency Checklist containing the actions that should be followed by the crew, in case of a steering failure