Maersk Eindhoven Cargo Loss: Engine Oil Pressure Triggered Loss of Propulsion

In heavy weather it’s not uncommon for the main engine to trip out on low oil pressure.

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The only time I’ve ever experienced it was because the engineers were not keeping the sump full with LO for some odd reason. I was nonplussed.

Topping off the lube oil should be on the heavy weather checklist.

Funnily enough, it was…

May have been in my case as well. I never checked.

Whuuut?? Engineers?? The lube oil level is perhaps one of the most critical items to check in the engine room. That’s the reason the task is often assigned to the least experienced lowest paid member of the engine room team. I think it would be safe to say there’s plenty of engineers who haven’t looked at a dipstick or sounding tape in years.

“It’s the oilers fault, he’s lazy anyway. I’m going to write him up.”

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Now that I think about it back then we were only using checklist for the junior officers, the chief and I only used them for some drills.

We were Indian ocean to USEC via Cape of Good Hope, punching into the weather one afternoon. I was on the bridge and suddenly the second engineer just waked out to the bow and hung half-way over the fwd rail for a look see

Of course the checklist, which we quickly dug out, calls for posting that the weather decks were off limits. I’d been bad if anything had happened and big legal problems for me.

“Common sense isn’t common” as we like to say.

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From my experience on ships with manned engine rooms the watches checked and logged main sump levels every watch. On unattended engine rooms the sumps levels may not get physically checked as often if they can be read from a computer screen. On one hand the information can be easily accessed or auto logged but it is easy to start relying on the alarm settings to notify you when to add oil.


Isn’t there a max and min? My understanding is not that the level was below min but that the shut down may have been avoided had the sump been filled to max.

EDIT: I don’t think in the Viking Sky report it is clear if the lube oil levels were below min or not.

From the report:

The safety advice issued by the Norwegian Maritime Authority is supported by the ongoing safety investigation, with the following recommendation: All vessel owners and operators are recommended to ensure that engine lubricating oil tank levels are maintained in accordance with engine manufacturer’s instructions and topped up in the event of poor weather being forecast.

The low level alarm shut down the engine from what I gather. Low oil level alarms are not infallible in my experience. Therefore before an engine shut down occurs there are adjustable variables. Example. First one is a low level alarm. The oil level varies depending on the sea state. So one puts a delay into the alarm system to prevent nuisance alarms This is common. But the low oil level shut down is an alarm parameter many are loathe to touch. Even though the low level shutdown may be a transient incident most engineers I know are very hesitant to put a 15 or 30 second delay into the program. Many engineers are constrained or do not even have the password for correcting parameter problems. I am NOT saying that was the cause of this incident. Just food for thought


These 14k transpacific ships are having a hell of a run this winter.

Lube oil level is one of those things that guys who know the ship watch like a hawk, but that a new engineer might not have a good feeling for where the level alarms or pump suctions are. Heavy weather is of course also liable to stir up crud and clog filters, and I’ve definitely been in situations where it was only luck (and the habit of cleaning the bypass after any use to always start fresh) that we were able to keep things running smoothly.

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El Faro might or might not have survived that hurricane, but her fate was likely sealed when she lost propulsion when the main turbine tripped on loss of lube oil pressure. Lube oil pump lost suction due to low sump level and list on the ship.

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I haven’t sailed as engineer for a couple of decades, so not sure but isn’t the oil low level a warning/slow down alarm and the oil low pressure the shut down one?

Of course if you lose suction you’ll lose pressure as well so that would still leave you in trouble.

It was not the lub oil level that was low but the pressure, i.e. the lub oil was not distributed around in the engine. Probably the pump had failed or a pipe/filter was blocked. Strange that the engine was cut off without an alarm going off before.

A ship in heavy weather can sometimes experience heavy rolling. If the rolling is extreme enough it can cause the engine lube oil system to lose suction. The loss of suction is what causes the oil pressure to drop which in turn causes the engine to shut down.

Topping up the oil level before encountering heavy weather decreases the probability that the engine will trip out.


The ship is standing by close to Oshima island outside Sagami bay and the entry to Tokyo after losing 260+ containers a week ago. Owners are apparently trying to decide what to do. Continue to LA?

I believe that typically you will have float switches or a remote gauging system for low and possibly high sump levels that trigger alarms, but which do not cause the engine to take any action. Then you will frequently have a transducer reporting oil pressure from which the engineer can set their adjustable/delayed alarms as they see fit, and then the engine itself will have pressure switches set for potentially a second hard wired low oil alarm and certainly one to finally trigger a shutdown.

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Both level and pressure are monitored. Both can also have their alarm parameters modified.

Maersk has done wrong to someone honest soul that’s why they are facing one incident after another with their ships.

They have had 8-10 incidents with their ships in last 3 n half months.