Fuel switchover and ULSFO implicated in ferry grounding

Sarah Carter

Sarah Carter · 22 February 2019


Loss of power due to a switch to ultra-low sulphur fuel has been identified as a factor in the grounding of the ferry Pride of Kent in Calais in December 2017.

On 10 December 2017, the UK registered ro-ro passenger ferry Pride of Kent struck a jetty and then grounded while departing Calais, France. The ferry was re-floated later that day and subsequently moved to a berth where the passengers disembarked. The ferry’s starboard propeller and tail-shaft were damaged and required repair in dry dock. The jetty was also damaged. There were no injuries to crew or passengers and no pollution.

The incident happened during gale force winds and followed problems when berthing due to the 40-50kt winds and problems with the ship’s bow thrusters.

According to the investigation report by the UK Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) when departing the berth control of the ferry during the turn towards the harbour entrance was lost due to the fast rate of turn, strong gale-force winds, use of full rudder and propeller pitch, and the tripping of one of the ferry’s bow thrusters. The report also highlighted that the omission of a departure briefing to the bridge team contributed to the master not being fully supported, and the helm not being closely monitored; and that the occasional tripping of bow thrusters and reduced engine speed and shaft speeds were associated with fuel pump issues experienced following a change to ultra-low sulphur fuel.

On the issue of the bow thruster failure and the problems with the fuel switch over, the report said that In June 2017, the fuel used on board Pride of Kent was changed from MGO to ultra-low sulphur fuel oil (ULSFO) to reduce vessel running costs. Both fuel types complied with emissions requirements for ships within the North Sea SECA.

Since the introduction of ULSFO, the main engines’ fuel pumps had suffered from increased wear, which resulted in, among other things, difficulty in starting and clutching in, the engines alarming on overload more frequently, high exhaust gas temperatures, and reduced power output that resulted in speed reductions of between 1 and 2kts when on passage. Additionally, the main engine fuel pumps’ serviceable life was reduced by as much as 5 years to as little as 2 months. This resulted in all the main engine fuel pumps fitted on board Pride of Kent being replaced between August and November 2017.

Following the introduction of ULSFO, although the bow thrusters had occasionally tripped, the cause of their failure had not been associated with the degradation of the fuel pumps. The problems encountered following the introduction of ULSFO on board Pride of Kent were reported to P&O Ferries’ technical superintendent and were reflected in the chief engineers’ end of month reports. However, the status of the main propulsion was recorded as ‘satisfactory’ in the ferry’s weekly status reports. Investigation by the propulsion control system’s manufacturer in July 2017 indicated that the engine problems being experienced were probably linked to the performance of the fuel pumps. The performance of the fuel pumps was referred to Lloyd’s Register technical investigation department in October 2017, but resulting remedial work did not improve the situation and the associated engine problems


Since the incident, P&O Ferries, the owner of the vessel has taken appropriate action and;

  • Developed a simulator-based programme of training for masters to include, among other things, machinery failures and emergencies.
  • Highlighted to its fleet the requirement for effective bridge team briefings, contingency plans, and allowances for deficiencies in vessel performance.
  • Amended its fleet regulations with regard to bridge resource management and tug requirements.
  • Reverted to the use of MGO on board Pride of Kent pending assessment of the problems associated with ULSFO.
  • Introduced a procedure to monitor the performance of its bridge teams with a focus on bridge resource management, including the effectiveness of helmsman training, taking into account the value of onboard assessments.
  • Developed and implemented a plan for monitoring and assessing the impact of ultra-low sulphur fuel on the reliability and performance of Pride of Kent’s propulsion should it be re-introduced in the future.
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