A ‘complex’ investigation into 2 catastrophic engine failures on board Wightlink’s Wightlink ferry has revealed a history of some 26 engine failures dating back to 2010.

The Marine Accident Investigation Branch (MAIB) spent over 3 years investigating the most recent incidents which occurred on 26 August and 14 December 2018 – but have expanded their investigation to look at a total of 26 engine failures in the Wight-class fleet.

It was on August 26, 2018 that Wight Sky suffered a catastrophic forward main engine failure as it prepared to enter the River Lymington on its scheduled crossing from Yarmouth. It was the second catastrophic failure of the ferry’s main engine in less than a year – with the faulty engine replacing the previous failure which caused a fire and serious injury to an engineer officer.

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The accident report revealed that at 6:41 p.m. the engine failed catastrophically, causing a connecting rod to fly through the engine housing into the engine room. Oil and fumes released from the crankcase ignited and created a fireball around the engine.

Engine damage to Wight Sky in August 2018

The 10 crew members were quickly rounded up, the 117 passengers rounded up and the coastguards alerted. It was originally planned to head for Lymington, but shortly after the captain made the decision to proceed to Lymington, black smoke began to emerge from the engine room funnel. The trip was cut short and Wight Sky returned to Yarmouth.

On December 14, 2018, at 06:55 a.m., Wight Sky suffered a third catastrophic engine failure – this time in the aft engine room. The crew reported loud banging noises coming from the engine room and smoke could be seen billowing from the shore at Lymington. The fire suppression system was activated and emergency stops were activated for the fans and fuel pumps. With the engine still running, the master disengaged and stopped the engine from the bridge and shut off the aft electric generator.

Hampshire Fire and Rescue Service boarded the vessel at Lymington Terminal and were able to confirm there was no fire. Initial inspection of the engine room revealed that the engine had failed catastrophically and its number 4 connecting rod and gudgeon pin had been thrown out the side of the engine case in the engine room – a little like the August incident of this year.

As the MAIB investigation progressed, it became apparent that similar and other types of engine failures were more common on Yarmouth’s 3 W-class vessels than originally thought and that the failures began within 2 years of the vessels commissioning in 2009. The scope of the official investigation was expanded to include all known failures on the 3 vessels – a total of 26 between 2010 and 2018, of which 5 have were considered serious.

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The investigation concluded, in brief, that the August 2018 outage was caused by a sudden loss of lubricating oil supply and that the December 2018 outage was the result of an assembly error in the factory of Volvo Penta in Sweden.

Overall, the operation and maintenance of Wightlink’s main engines was not managed effectively, according to the MAIB, and many of its engineers did not record the tasks they performed or the results of test runs. engine fluid on the company’s integrated electronic management system.

In addition, the maintenance work carried out by RK Marine Ltd, the local service center responsible for carrying out most Wight-class engine overhauls, did not meet the standards set by Volvo Penta and those expected by Wightlink. Mistakes were made during overhauls, basic levels of shop cleanliness were not always met, engines were not properly aligned, unapproved repairs were carried out and used components were regularly replaced. one engine to another.

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The reuse of components between engines was primarily done at the request of Wightlink’s technical department for reasons of cost reduction and to speed up repairs, the MAIB noted.

The Marine Accident Investigation Branch also noted that engine operating profiles, introduced to meet wake restrictions in the Lymington River and to mitigate the risk of losing an engine, resulted in long periods of low power operation, which probably had a detrimental effect on the condition of the engine.

Chief Marine Casualty Inspector Andrew Moll said:

“This has been a long and complex investigation. Focusing initially on two catastrophic engine failures, the investigation revealed a history of engine failures on Wightlink’s fleet of Wightlink-class ferries dating back to 2010. Therefore, the scope of the investigation was expanded to include the forensic examination and testing of five failed engines and their components, a full review of the design and operation of the vessels propulsion system, and reviewed the procedures for safety management, planned maintenance and condition monitoring by the ferry operator, as well as technical supervision by the engine manufacturer and its authorized service provider.

“MAIB has worked closely with Wightlink, Volvo Penta AB, Lloyds Register and the Maritime and Coastguard Agency over the past three years to help ensure that most of the technical issues identified in the investigation report are resolved as soon as possible. .

“The report contains recommendations to improve the reliability of propulsion machinery on board Wight Class ferries and reduce the likelihood of future catastrophic engine failures.”

MAIB commended the Wightlink crew for their quick response to every emergency, which helped limit the consequences of catastrophic engine failures.


It was recommended that Wightlink provide competent technical oversight of maintenance on board its vessels, with further recommendations to Volvo Penta regarding the identification of all affected customers to resolve the oil filter bypass anomaly.

The MAIB has also made a recommendation to Lloyds Register on the need to introduce into its rules and regulations the time required to disengage a main propulsion engine from the driveshaft in the event of an emergency stop, in order to prevent the motor from being cranked and increase the risk of serious injury and damage.

The full report can be downloaded here.

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