Royal Navy Icebreaker Flood 2008

Interesting read here from the Commander of HMS Endurance when she flooded 10 years ago this week.


Loss of power was affecting us badly. The emergency generator in a commercial ship (which Endurance was built to be) is exactly that – it provides sufficient power and supplies to facilitate a safe evacuation and nothing close to the level of support that a comparable generator in a warship would provide. Communications were reduced to battery powered iridium phones and outgoing only. Our Global Maritime Distress System was without power as was our stability computer.

It is strange that no real emergency power was available. Normally the emergency generator should start within 45 seconds and support vital equipment such as (emergency) telecommunication and navigation equipment, emergency lighting in mess rooms, corridors, cabins etc and such trivials as bilge pumps.

In case of a permanently installed submersible bilge pump, the installation shall comply with IEC 92-201, clause17, as follows:

  1. the electric motor shall be connected to the emergency switchboard;
  2. cables and their connections to such pumps shall be capable of operating under a head of water equal to their distance below the bulkhead deck.The cable shall be impervious-sheathed and armoured and shall be installed in continuous lengths from above the bulkhead to the motor terminals and shall enter the air bell from the bottom.

For non-war ships this is regulated by SOLAS. As the ship was originally built as a commercial vessel then SOLAS would have applied so the total loss of power is a bit puzzling. Fact of life is that these generators are often neglected in maintenance and not tested weekly so that at ‘le moment supreme’ they fail…

  • Emergency generator and emergency switchboard of the ship should be located above the uppermost continuous deck, away from machinery space, behind the collision bulkhead.
  • The main switchboard of the ship should not interface with supply, control, and distribution of emergency power.

Using ABS as an example…the bilge pump (and I mean the regulatory required one based on ship size to get the required de-watering GPM) should come off the E SWBD. Likewise the largest capacity pump (usually a main SW cooling pump) in the engine room would have an emergency direct bilge suction to overboard and that pump too is usually powered from the E SWBD.

Not enough information about the goings on in the engine room in this article to avoid speculation but it sounds like the bonnet of a SW valve came off and established a direct opening to the sea. Someone on duty should have gotten the bilge pump going overboard from the direct bilge suction and also had someone looking at lining up the “largest pump” suction as well. Sounds like man power was not an issue, the de-watering could proceed even as another team is trying to staunch the flow from the damaged valve.

Once the engine room was full to the overhead emergency power to bilge pumps was a moot point. However, circuits to comms and nav gear should still have been intact as you suggest.

I have a feeling his statement about the “no emergency power” is an exaggeration or the vessel was not even built to commercial standards. An actual emergency is NOT the time to find out what is powered from the emergency switchboard, UPS’s, etc. He may have been shocked by how little was but it may have been in compliance.

I have to have regular blackout and loss of propulsion drills on the engineering side of a commercial vessel. Table tops that at least raise these issues get people thinking about “what would I do” “do I know where X valve is” etc.

Though I can see the logic of “there is no better bilge pump than a scared man with a bucket” that’s pressing your luck on a ship. The bucket brigade did seem to serve other purposes in this case as in keeping people focused with an attitude of survival.

Amazing story. Any detailed reports publicly available? Hope you add the links for the next parts here in this thread.


What I’ve run into with regards to GMDSS and emergency power is that while the original equipment may have been set up properly, over time from upgrades, repairs and modifications to the equipment don’t maintain the requirements.

In general crews are good at keeping up with routine requirements such as testing the EDG under full load and so forth, the problems develop elsewhere.

1 Like

It is a good story. I’ll post the next ones as they are released.


Too often all those upgrades and modifications are not well documented and properly filed.

When cleaning a sea water strainer it is most important to make sure all the valves remain closed until the strainer is fully reassembled.

A remotely operated skin valve opened prior to the strainer being closed up. The valve air lines where incorrectly reconnected during the strainer cleaning operation.


Of course the GMDSS should have power but possibly the loss of power conformed to his expectations. Here’s what he says:

Loss of power was affecting us badly. The emergency generator in a commercial ship (which Endurance was built to be) is exactly that – it provides sufficient power and supplies to facilitate a safe evacuation and nothing close to the level of support that a comparable generator in a warship would provide. Communications were reduced to battery powered iridium phones and outgoing only. Our Global Maritime Distress System was without power as was our stability computer.

It’s something I’ve heard from navy sailors. Anything goes wrong on a commercial ship the crew grabs their OT sheets and heads for the boats.

The somewhat sobering conclusion from the report is that the cleaning operation of the strainers was an unnecessary exercise. What a mess…

Shutting down both the auxiliary generators caused the automatic starting of the emergency generator, located four decks above the Engine Room adjacent to the hangar, which provided partial lighting and power to essential equipment.

The GMDSS was on emergency power but the antenna was defective. There had been no opportunity to repair it because of the weather. Any sailors on board? The stability computer was obviously not seen as ‘essential’ equipment.

The SAT C aerial for GMDSS was known to be defective prior to the incident starting, which delayed provision of full GMDSS functionality until a temporary aerial had been rigged. Poor weather and the difficulty of weather deck access had precluded earlier attention to this defect. Despite previous suggestions (Immediate Ship’s Investigation) there were no issues with the power supply to GMDSS.

1 Like

In my opinion the ship had very poorly lead, trained, instructed, and motivated engineering department. Not withstanding being undermanned.

Undermanned? I’ll bet it was run on a single handed watch basis when it was a merchnt ship.

1 Like

HMS Endurance, decommissioned in 2012, up for sale in 2015. She never recovered from the 2008 accident. I am curious how long that radar antenna up front will last in really bad weather, especially that antenna array, kind of underwater radar.

Loss of power was affecting us badly. The emergency generator in a commercial ship (which Endurance was built to be) is exactly that – it provides sufficient power and supplies to facilitate a safe evacuation and nothing close to the level of support that a comparable generator in a warship would provide. Communications were reduced to battery powered iridium phones and outgoing only. Our Global Maritime Distress System was without power as was our stability computer.

His definition of the what the functions of an emergency generator are is rather strangely limited to something vague like to facilitate a safe evacuation. What is that? He also does not mention the fact that the GMDSS had power but that the aerial was out of order already before the start of the events, the statement no comms due to loss of power is therefore not correct. Does not he know or what? I donot understand this.

From the report:

A VHF Mayday call was authorised by the XO and issued by the Operations Officer. Further emergency calls via the Global Maritime Distress and Safety System (GMDSS) were delayed due to the need to repair a pre-existing defect on the aerial.

What are the equipments which get supply from the emergency generator ?

  • Emergency lightening to alley way / boat deck / engine room.
  • Navigation systems
  • Steering gear
  • Emergency fire pump
  • Emergency air compressor
  • Battery charging
  • Fire detecting and alarming system
  • Radio equipments (Communication equipment)
  • Daylight signaling lamp and ship’s whistle
  • Navigation Aids
  • General Alarm
  • Manual fire alarm
  • Watertight doors

I expect he was going from memory and remembered it was u/s but not why.

Yes, could be a lapse of memory. Not yet due to old age I suppose…:wink:

One of the better designed container vessels I sailed in had an emergency generator that could carry the full hotel load of the ship.
In port a quiet engine room did much to improve productivity during maintenance particularly when shore contractors were employed.

1 Like

From ABS but assume all good IACS members are similar.

5.5 Emergency Services (2012)
i) The electrical power available from the emergency source is to be sufficient to supply all those services that are essential for safety in an emergency, due regard being paid to such services as may have to be operated simultaneously. Where the sum of the loads on the emergency generator switchboard exceeds the power available, an analysis demonstrating that the power required to operate the services simultaneously is to be produced. The analysis is to be submitted for review in support of the sizing of the emergency generator.

ii) The emergency source of electrical power is to be capable, having regard to starting currents and the transitory nature of certain loads, of supplying simultaneously at least the services listed in 4-8-2/5.5.1 through 4-8-2/5.5.12 for the period specified.

5.5.1 Emergency Lighting for Survival Craft For a period of 3 hours, emergency lighting:
i) At every muster and embarkation station and over the sides for preparation and launching the survival craft, and its launching appliance.
ii) For the area of water into which the survival craft is to be launched.

5.5.2 Other Emergency Lighting For a period of 18 hours, emergency lighting:
i) In all service and accommodation alleyways, stairways and exits, personnel lift cars and personnel lift trunks;
ii) In the machinery spaces and main generating stations including their control positions;
iii) In all control stations, machinery control rooms, and at each main and emergency switchboard;
iv) At all stowage positions for fireman’s outfits;
v) At the steering gear;
vi) At the emergency fire pump, at the sprinkler pump, and at the emergency bilge pump, and at the starting positions of their motors; and
vii) (1 July 2002) In all cargo pump-rooms of tankers which have their keel laid or are at a similar stage of construction on or after 1 July 2002.

5.5.3 Navigation Lights For period of 18 hours, the navigation lights and other lights required by the International Regulation for Preventing Collisions at Sea.

5.5.4 Radio Communication For a period of 18 hours; the radio equipment as required by Chapter IV of SOLAS.

5.5.5 Internal Communication For a period of 18 hours, all internal communication equipment as required in an emergency, which includes those required by 4-8-2/11.5.

5.5.6 Navigation Aids For a period of 18 hours, the navigational aids as below.
i) Magnetic compass
ii) Gyro compass
v) Rudder angle indicator
vi)Propeller revolution counter
vii)Rate of turn indicator, if fitted

5.5.7 Fire Detection and Alarm System For a period of 18 hours, the fire detection and alarm system.

5.5.8 Emergency Signals For a period of 18 hours, intermittent operation of the daylight signaling lamp, the vessel’s whistle, the manually operated call points, and all internal signals that are required in an emergency, which includes those in 4-8-2/11.7.

5.5.9 Fire Pump For period of 18 hours, one of the fire pumps required by 4-7-3/1.5.1 and 4-7-3/1.5.3, and fixed pressure water spray system pump required by 4-7-2/1.1.1iii) if dependent upon the emergency generator for its source of power.

5.5.10 Steering Gear Steering gears which are required to comply with 4-3-4/11.9, for a period of 30 minutes continuous operation on vessels of 10,000 gross tonnage and upwards, and 10 minutes continuous operation on vessels of less than 10,000 gross tonnage, unless an independent source of power is provided in the steering gear compartment.

5.5.11 Remote Propulsion Control and Monitoring System for ACC and ACCU Notations For 30 minutes, the remote propulsion control and monitoring system for machinery spaces intended for centralized control or unattended operation, as required by 4-9-5/3.5 and 4-9-6/3.7.

5.5.12 Other Emergency Services (2005)For a period of 30 minutes for the following:i) Free-fall lifeboat secondary launching appliance, if the secondary launching appliance is not dependent on gravity, stored mechanical power or other manual means, andii) Power-operated watertight door, as required by 4-9-7/1.3.4.


Thank you very much. That is a very complete list and probably more than enough to facilitate a safe evacuation…:slightly_smiling_face:

Apple and orange comparison. A professional American football team with only the offensive players, no defense, no special teams would be undermanned in game against opposition with a full team.

A professional soccer team would not consider the same situation to be undermanned.

Military and commercial use different systems to man ships. A military crew can be short-handed as can a commercial crew.

Here’s the ABS section on the emergency suction. I don’t know if this particular vessel would have had a requirement for this feature and now after reading the full report it almost sounds like they were cleaning a strainer on what might have been the very pump that could have served this role. Sounds like they had their hands full …

5.5.5(b)Emergency bilge suction (2016).
In addition to the direct bilge suction required by 4-6-4/5.5.5(a), an emergency bilge suction is to be fitted for the propulsion machinery space. The emergency bilge suction is to be directly connected to the largest independently driven pump in the propulsion machinery space, other than the required bilge pumps. Where this pump is not suitable, the second largest suitable pump in the propulsion machinery space may be used for this service, provided that the selected pump is not one of the required bilge pumps and its capacity is not less than that of the required bilge pump.

The emergency bilge line is to be provided with a suction stop-check valve, which is to be so located as to enable rapid operation, and a suitable overboard discharge line. For the emergency bilge inlet, the distance between the open end of the suction inlet and the tank top is to be adequate to allow a full flow of water. The hand wheel of the emergency bilge suction valve is to be positioned not less than 460 mm (18 in.) above the floor plates.

In addition, the following arrangements are also to be complied with, as applicable:
i) For internal-combustion-engine propulsion machinery spaces, the area of the emergency bilge suction pipe is to be equal to the full suction inlet of the pump selected.

HMS Endurance (ex Polar Circle) was originally built to and maintained DNV Class.
Here is the latest(?) rules for Electrical Installation in pdf. format:…/DNVGL-RU-SHIP-Pt4Ch8.pdf

Emergency supply from Pg. 30
List of equipment to be covered in Table 1 (Pg 32-34)